A Florida professional license disciplinary proceeding places your livelihood in jeopardy. 

If you have a professional license issued by the state of Florida, you may wonder what may happen in the event that you are involved in a disciplinary proceeding. It is important to understand the implications of a professional license disciplinary proceeding. If you know what the procedure is, then you will be better to able to make a decision on the course of action to take. Your professional license is your livelihood so you need to make sure that you take the best course of action in order to defend it. This article is intended to provide a short overview of the process in a professional license disciplinary proceeding. If you are questioned by a Florida agency relating to your professional license, or if you are served with an administrative complaint, you need to talk to an attorney as soon as possible.

You receive a letter from the Florida administrative agency notifying you that you are under investigation.

In our experience, the first action by the Florida administrative agency (such as the Office of Financial Regulation, Department of Financial Services, or others) after they have determined that you have broken the rules is to send you a letter stating that you are under investigation. The form of the letter varies by the agency or state organization. Additionally, the agency may include a settlement offer with the letter. Depending on the alleged violation, the agency may offer for you to agree to a voluntary revocation of your professional license, or may offer a fine or suspension. You need to consult with an attorney immediately after receiving this letter.

After receiving your initial contact from the Florida administrative agency, you should not talk to any investigator or other person from the agency because you have a right to remain silent. In Florida, an administrative agency cannot compel you to testify against yourself for professional license disciplinary proceedings, even if there are no criminal charges involved. State ex rel. Vining v. Florida Real Estate Comm’n, 281 So. 2d 487 (Fla. 1973). If you start talking to investigators, or give a recorded interview, your statements will be used against you in the disciplinary case. This is why it is strongly recommended to get an attorney to represent you, even if you do not elect to follow through with requesting an administrative hearing.

If you reject the proposed settlement from the administrative agency, the next step is that the agency will file an administrative complaint against you. In the administrative complaint, the administrative licensing agency will make its allegations of which statutes or rules that you have violated. Much of the rules regulating the procedure of the administrative disciplinary process are included in Florida Administrative Code Chapter 28-106.

The administrative complaint is issued by the Florida agency.

After being served with the administrative complaint, you will have a certain amount of time to answer the complaint and request the proper type of hearing. The time to respond to the administrative complaint should be included with the complaint itself. Here is where you and your attorney will have an important decision to make: Do you have disputed issues of material fact? This is an extremely important decision. If there are no disputed issues of material fact, this means that the allegations in the administrative complaint are deemed admitted and basically you are arguing issues of law or attempting to persuade the professional licensing agency to impose a more lenient penalty. It is incredibly important that you carefully consider with your attorney proceeding without disputing issues of material fact.

In a case where there are no disputed issues of material fact, there is limited action to take prior to the final hearing.

Ideally, there will be disputed issues of material fact in the administrative complaint. This is the best route to take because it put increased pressure on the administrative agency to prove its case. Instead of arguing purely matters of law or requesting that the agency take a more lenient penalty, you are defending your case and requiring that the agency prove that you actually violated the law or rule at issue.

The discovery phase of the disciplinary proceeding. 

Professional license disciplinary proceedings with disputed issues of material fact typically take around six months to be resolved, depending on the complexity of the case and the amount of discovery required. In most cases, the proceeding is held before the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings. An professional license disciplinary proceeding with disputed issues of material fact operates similarly to any other court case. The licensee, or the respondent, has the ability to take depositions and conduct discovery pursuant to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. The disciplinary proceeding culminates in a final evidentiary hearing, which is similar to a civil trial, before an administrative law judge.

After the final evidentiary hearing, the parties, including the administrative agency bringing the action, have the opportunity to submit a proposed recommended order with the administrative law judge within a certain amount of time. The proposed recommended order includes the findings of fact for the administrative law judge, in addition to any legal arguments supporting each party’s position. After receiving both proposed recommended orders from the parties, the administrative law judge will issue a recommended order, which is sent to the administrative agency that brought the disciplinary action against the licensee.

The recommended order is issued by the administrative law judge.

After the recommended order is issued by the administrative law judge, the parties will have the opportunity to submit exceptions to the recommended order. Under Rule 28-106.217, Florida Administrative Code, “Parties may file exceptions to findings of fact and conclusions of law contained in recommended orders with the agency responsible for rendering final agency action within 15 days of entry of the recommended order except in proceedings conducted pursuant to Section 120.57(3), F.S.” Furthermore, the written exceptions “shall identify the disputed portions of the recommended order by page number or paragraph, shall identify the legal basis for the exception, and shall include any appropriate and specific citations to the record.” Filing exceptions to the recommended order is not required in order to file an appeal of the agency’s final order, but the failure to file any exception to findings of fact will not preserve any objection to findings of fact in the case. Commission on Ethics v. Barker, 677 So. 2d 254, 256-257 (Fla. 1996). Therefore, filing written exceptions to a recommended order is an important step in order to be prepared to appeal the result of the disciplinary proceeding.

After the recommended order is issued by the administrative law judge and any exceptions are filed by the parties, the agency will issue its final order. The final order is considered the final disciplinary action by the administrative agency. This ends the disciplinary process.

Contact an attorney immediately after receiving knowledge that you are under investigation.

This article is only meant to be a short explanation of the process professional licensees must endure in the event an administrative agency files an administrative complaint against the licensee. Of course, there are many additional issues and other steps that may be taken by an agency or licensee in pursuit of winning the case. It is important to remember that you absolutely should consult with an attorney as soon as possible if you learn you are the subject of an investigation or an administrative complaint.

One of our firm’s practice areas is professional license defense. If you have received knowledge that you may be the subject of an agency investigation into your conduct or have received an administrative complaint contact us today to schedule a free consultation.

 

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