MEDICAL LICENSING: Challenge of license restriction for overprescribing narcotics rejected pursuant to Younger, 11th Amendment immunity… Molloy.
A former employee made a complaint against physician Mark Ibsen to the Board of Medical Examiners accusing him of overprescribing narcotics. Following a protracted administrative process, the Board found him guilty of not providing proper medical documentation to two patients and restricted his license to a probationary license. On 1/6/21 he sued Board Pres. Ana Diaz, former Gov. Bullock, and the Dept. of Labor. He alleges procedural due process violations under §1983, a privacy claim under the Montana Constitution, and a state law claim for tortious interference with contractual & business relationships, and seeks declaratory & injunctive relief and $8 million monetary relief plus “monetary damages for corrective advertising” and attorney fees. Defendants seek to dismiss his complaint. In response, he indicates that he would like to file an amended complaint and seeks 60 days to pursue discovery to do so.
Ibsen’s claims of procedural due process violations of the 4th and 14th Amendments are barred by the Younger (US 1971) abstention doctrine. There is a strong policy against federal intervention in state judicial processes absent great & immediate irreparable injury to the federal plaintiff. Id.; Gooding (9th Cir. 1968). Younger directs federal courts to abstain from injunctive or declaratory relief that would interfere with state judicial proceedings. “Abstention in civil cases ‘is appropriate only when the state proceedings: (1) are ongoing, (2) are quasi-criminal enforcement actions or involve a state’s interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts, (3) implicate an important state interest, and (4) allow litigants to raise federal challenges.’” Cook (9th cir. 2018). If these “threshold elements” are met, the Court must “consider whether the federal action would have the practical effect of enjoining the state proceedings and whether an exception to Younger applies.” ReadyLink (9th cir. 2014).
The “threshold elements” are met here. Ibsen is seeking judicial review of the Board’s decision in State Court as indicated by his filing a “Petition for Judicial Review, Motion to Stay Board’s Order pending Review, and Motion for Sanctions” before the 1st Judicial District Court dated 1/28/21. This is a noncriminal judicial proceeding where the State is a party and important state interests are implicated. And Ibsen has adequate opportunity in the State Court to raise federal questions and concerns that affect his federal rights. MCA 2-4-704(2)(a)(i) (permitting consideration of whether “the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are in violation of constitutional provisions”). It also appears that he has done so.
Younger principles apply and a stay is appropriate when a federal ruling on a §1983 claim would “determine whether the federal plaintiff’s constitutional rights were violated.” Gilbertson (9th Cir. 2004). But “Younger abstention is proper only when the federal relief sought would interfere in some manner in the state court litigation.” Meredith (9th Cir. 2003). A determination regarding whether Ibsen’s constitutional rights were violated would have the effect of interfering with the “state courts’ ability to enforce constitutional principles, and put the federal court in the position of making a premature ruling on a matter of constitutional law.” Gilbertson. To rule on the constitutional issues raised here would impermissibly risk interfering with Montana’s administration of its judicial system.
Because all 4 Younger prongs are satisfied the Court must abstain from adjudicating Ibsen’s claims unless exceptional circumstances exist. Middlesex (US 1982). The recognized exceptional circumstances are a “showing of bad faith, harassment, or some other extraordinary circumstance that would make abstention inappropriate.” Id. Ibsen has not alleged an exceptional circumstance sufficient to avoid abstention.
If abstention is appropriate under Younger and the federal plaintiff seeks monetary damages, the proper procedural remedy is to stay the federal proceedings pending the outcome of the state proceedings. If the federal plaintiff seeks only injunctive or declaratory relief, the proper procedural remedy is dismissal of the federal action. Roden (9th Cir. 2007). Accordingly, Ibsen’s claims for injunctive relief are dismissed, leaving only his claims for monetary relief.
The 11th Amendment bars claims for monetary damages against states and state officials acting in their official capacity. Will (US 1988); Hafer (US 1991) (“Suits against state officials in their official capacity should be treated as suits against the State.”). Ibsen has sued a state agency and 2 state officials in their official capacities. Because these claims are barred, they are also dismissed.
Ibsen could potentially sue the individual Defendants for monetary damages in their “individual capacities.” Hafer. But to do so he would need to adequately plead a connection between the constitutional violations and the specific behavior of each defendant. Suever (9th Cir. 2009). Even construing his complaint liberally and broadly, he fails to implicate the personal actions of either the Governor or Diaz insofar as his procedural due process rights are concerned. Nor can he state a viable claim against either. Ashcroft (US 2009). The Governor is not involved in the Board’s disciplinary process. And even if Diaz was involved, the nature of Ibsen’s claims regard potential actions during the disciplinary process, which would fall within the Board members’ absolute immunity. Olsen (9th Cir. 2004); Mishler (9th Cir. 1999) (“Holding hearings, taking evidence, and adjudicating are functions that are inherently judicial in nature.”). Accordingly, granting Ibsen leave to amend his complaint would be futile.
Defendants’ motions to dismiss as to Ibsen’s federal claims are granted. Absent any remaining claims over which this Court has original jurisdiction, it declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his state law claims.
Ibsen v. Diaz et al, 44 MFR 424, 4/7/21.
Mark Ibsen, Helena, pro se; Michael King (Tort Defense Division).