The Complaint: Catalyst of Discipline

Mar 22, 2017 | Trent Nelson

The complaint is the seed from which discipline is born.

Like a seed, a licensee may not even know a complaint has been made until it sprouts out of the soil and threatens to keep growing until your career has been strangled in its brambles.

Complaints, at first, remain anonymous and may come from any source with internet access, a stamp or a dial tone.

Anyone can make a complaint about any kind of perceived wrongdoing – whether real or imagined.

Regardless of the veracity of the complaint, any suggestion that a practitioner may have done something wrong could mean serious trouble for a licensee – regardless of whether you commited the act or not.

In our practice at Sellers, Galenbeck and Nelson, we have seen obvious sources of complaints: patients, family members of patients as well as concerned staff and other practitioners and colleagues who have genuine concerns about a licensee’s practice or business.

However, there is nothing to prevent complaints coming from more notorious sources: disgruntled ex-spouses, jilted lovers and former or current employees who decide, for whatever reason, they want to punish their boss.

Of course, one of the most recurring and glaring sources of complaints are motivated by pure economics – competitors.

Every year we see numerous complaints made to licensing boards by individuals or groups who are in direct competition with the subject of their complaints.

Make no doubt about it, this represents the explicit weaponization of the administrative process and is an easy tactic to run someone out of business.

To make matters worse, those who make the complaint remain anonymous until the agency finds probable cause to move forward with discipline. This means that you, as a licensee, may not even know who is making accusations until after those allegations have been published – permanently – on the licensing’s board’s Website.

At no time is the licensee put in a position to suggest that there may be other motivations at play until his or her career has already been permanently damaged.

Of course, a person whose career has been destroyed by a false complaint has legal recourse against the complainant, right? I wouldn’t count on it.

Even if a licensee is found to be absolutely and categorically innocent of all allegations made in a complaint, Iowa law specifically grants immunity to any person who files a report or complaint to a licensing board. 

The purpose of this law is clear – to encourage reports to be made without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, this immunity allows those who only want to harm your practice to do so from the shadows and without concern that their target can retaliate – or even know – they were the complaining culprit.

Don’t go it alone. If an investigator tells you that a complaint has been made about you, contact attorneys who are experienced with dealing with the complex rules and regulations of agency law.