Monthly Archives: February 2013

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals grants absolute immunity from Civil Rights Lawsuits to Nev. State Board of Medical Examiners

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals publishes a landmark opinion affirming the finding of absolute immunity from Civil Rights lawsuits, the Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners, an RBSL client.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals published an Opinion affirming the Order of the United States District Court dismissing a lawsuit against The Nevada State Board of Medical Examiners, an RBSL client. Michael Sullivan, Barry Breslow, and Frank Gilmore represented the Board in front of the Ninth Circuit and the District Court. The lawsuit arose when a Nevada physician filed a Complaint alleging violations of his civil rights when the Board suspended his right to prescribe, administer, and dispense controlled substances. On behalf of the Board, RBSL filed a Motion to Dismiss, arguing that federal law immunizes the Board from civil rights lawsuits, and, additionally, that the federal court should abstain from hearing the case, pending a formal hearing in front of the Board through Nevada’s Administrative Procedures Act. RBSL argued that the doctrine of “absolute immunity” precluded physicians from suing the Board for violations of civil rights. Citing an analogy to the immunity enjoyed by Judges and Prosecutors, RBSL argued that the function of the Board is “judicial or quasi-judicial”, and, as such, the Board should be absolutely immune from lawsuits under 28 U.S.C. 1983.

In the landmark opinion, the Ninth Circuit determined that the Board and it’s individual members are immune from civil rights lawsuits seeking damages. The Court adopted, for the first time, RBSL’s argument that the Federal Courts should abstain from exercising jurisdiction while a parallel action is pending at the state level pursuant to Nevada’s Administrative Procedures Act. Relying on the United States Supreme Court case of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), RBSL argued that the District Court properly dismissed the case under the Younger Abstention Doctrine. The Ninth Circuit agreed, finding that all four elements of the Younger Doctrine were present: (1) the Board’s administrative hearings were a “state action” that were judicial in nature, (2) the proceedings were ongoing, (3) the administrative hearings implicated an important state interest, and (4) the pending administrative proceedings afforded the plaintiff an adequate remedy. The landmark opinion on the application of the Younger Abstention Doctrine has already proved to be an effective shield against future lawsuits by physicians who improperly bring federal lawsuits without having first exhausted their available Administrative procedures.

The Ninth Circuit followed up the published opinion with an Order affirming the dismissal of a similar lawsuit brought by a Nevada physician who was disciplined for conduct which “brings the medical profession into disrepute”. The Court again confirmed the prior holding that when state administrative proceedings are ongoing, and the state proceedings are capable of providing a suitable remedy for the harm alleged, the federal courts should refrain from exercising jurisdiction in deference to parallel proceedings at the state level.