Plaintiffs have accused the Texas Medical Board (TMB) of “pervasive and continuing violations of…constitutional rights”—and a federal court is allowing their suit to go forward.
The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit’s ruling allows landmark litigation by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) to proceed, so that discovery can begin and AAPS can prove wrongdoing by the Board.
The court specifically noted a number of allegations, which they called “rather dramatic claims”:
- that the former Board president targeted physicians;
- that the Board manipulated anonymous complaints; and
- that anonymous complaints were allegedly filed by a New York insurance company seeking to avoid paying for claims.
In its decision, the Court ruled that “If practiced systemically, such abuses may have violated or chilled AAPS members’ constitutional rights,” and said the lawsuit could offer proof of these misdeeds and could establish a pattern of misconduct.
Physicians brought before a licensure board can be financially ruined by unconstitutional proceedings, even if exonerated, or they can lose their livelihood altogether. Instead of using their enormous power for the purpose of protecting the public, board members can deprive thousands of patients access to good physicians simply because an anonymous complainant held a grudge against the physician, or dislikes freedom in medicine.
TMB argued that only individual physicians had standing to sue. AAPS noted, however, that individuals are typically unable prove a pattern of abuse involving other physicians, so a larger group of physicians is necessary.
AAPS also says that physicians fear retaliation for complaining about the Board. In the words of one Texas physician, “I can’t tell you how fearful doctors are of the TMB. Knowing that with each disgruntled employee, angry neighbor, or aggressive competitor, we could lose our license, the practice of medicine has become one of fear. Thank you for your fight, and I hope many physicians will be sleeping more easily…at least in Texas!”