Achieving Dismissal of an Immediate Jeopardy Case Before it Began

We represented a large hospital system in an appeal of a citation of a Southern California hospital for a Health and Safety Code violation.

Without giving the statutorily required advance warning, the California Department of Public Health (Department) assessed a $50,000 penalty against the hospital.  The penalty was levied months after the investigation was required by law to have been completed.  The hospital system retained us to appeal the citation in a hearing scheduled in early 2013.  The appeal was to have been the first of its kind.  We are not aware of any similar citation having been challenged on appeal in a hearing.

Our attorneys vigorously advocated for the hospital, pressing the Department for additional documentation.  Once obtained, the Department's documents revealed an investigation marked by procedural irregularities, delays and internal disagreement as to whether the citation was warranted.  We gathered conclusive evidence that the hospital had followed its established procedures at all times.  We also marshaled evidence that the Department lacked any criteria for distinguishing adverse hospital events constituting a real and serious threat from the myriad of complications that arise in California hospitals annually.

Confronted with their knowledge of what we had learned and our exhaustive witness and exhibit lists, the Department notified the hospital system that it would withdraw the citation prior to the start of the hearing.  The administrative law judge ordered the case dismissed on March 4, 2013.

This outstanding outcome demonstrates that patient safety is best served when regulators provide clear guidance to facilities as to what conduct will be citable - and then follow the established standards in their investigations.  For us and our client, that proved to be a winning argument.


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