The Board’s procedures for handling complaints are governed by its statute, regulations on hearing procedures, and other applicable Maryland laws such as the Administrative Procedures Act and the Public Information Act. As we often receive inquiries concerning these procedures, the following summary explains the Board’s Procedures for handling complaints.
Section 11-313 of the Optometry Act lists the violations with which an optometrist may be charged, and indicates that such a violation may result in the denial of a license, the issuance of a formal reprimand, or the suspension or revocation of a license.
Once a complaint is received by the Board, the Board first determines whether it has jurisdiction to investigate the complaint. If the individual is neither a licensed optometrist nor an applicant for licensure, the Board may ask the office of the Attorney General to refer the complaint for prosecution by the State’s Attorney in the locality where the individual lives, provided that the individual appears to have been either practicing optometry illegally or has misrepresented himself or herself as an optometrist. In some circumstances, the Board may choose to write a letter to the individual, asking that he or she cease or desist from the illegal activity.
If the individual is either a licensed optometrist or an applicant for licensure, the Board will determine whether the complaint alleges that the individual committed any of the acts enumerated in Section 11-313. The Board then sends a copy of the complaint to the practitioner and asks for a response to the issues in the complaint and provides any relevant records to the Board. The Board reviews the response and the complaint and determines whether further information is needed or if the complaint should be referred to the Board’s investigator. There may be instances in which the complainant has given a reason for not sharing the complaint with the licensee. In such an instance, the complaint could be forwarded directly to the investigator. The investigator then interviews all relevant parties, including both the complainant and the practitioner, and subpoenas all necessary records and documents.
When the investigation is complete, the investigator submits a factual report to the Board. The Board reviews the investigative report to determine if there is probable cause to charge the licensee, that is, whether the facts reported give reason to believe that the individual has committed one of the acts described in Section 11-313 of the Optometry Act the Board may decide not to charge the individual, to informally sanction him or her, or to charge the individual with violating the Act.
If the Board requests an informal meeting with the optometrist or decides to charge the optometrist, the details of the complaint are made available to the optometrist or his or her attorney. If the board does charge the individual, he or she is notified of the charges and a hearing is scheduled, as provided in Section 11- 315 of the Act. If a hearing is held, you may be required to testify. It is only after such a hearing that the Board may take formal action against the individual. If action is taken against the optometrist, the optometrist has the right to appeal the Board’s decision, as provided in Section 11-317 of the Act. The complainant has no right to appeal the Board’s action in any case.
It is important to emphasize that the fact that the Board brings formal charges against an optometrist reflects only its belief that there is probable cause to believe that the individual has committed a violation under the Act. The Board’s final decision is based only on the evidence presented by both sides during the hearing procedure.
Case Resolution Conference
Prior to holding an evidentiary hearing, the Board usually holds a case resolution conference. At this time, there is an opportunity for the optometrist and the Board to settle the case by means of a consent order. That is, the Board and the optometrist may mutually agree on certain penalties, which may either replace or supplement penalties provided in Section 11-313 of the Act. For example, depending upon the circumstances, an optometrist may agree to provide financial restitution, fulfill certain educational requirements, engage in supervised or limited practice, or fulfill one or more additional requirements relevant to the situation. In such cases, a formal hearing would not be held, but the optometrist would be bound by the consent order and would surrender his or her right to appeal the case.
Whether a case is settled through a formal hearing or by consent order, it is advisable for the accused individual to retain legal counsel. It should also be emphasized that careful adherence to all the procedures outlined above normally takes several months. When a final determination is made, the Board notifies the complainant and the licensee.