SOAH Defense Lawyer
A SOAH hearing is a formal, contested hearing conducted by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. SOAH hearings are adversarial in nature, and adhere to both the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure and rules of administrative procedure. The parties to a SOAH action are the complainant (the medical board) and the respondent (the license holder). At SOAH, the respondent has a right to appear personally, by counsel, or both.
The SOAH hearing begins with a formal complaint. A formal complaint is a written statement filed and presented by board staff charging the license holder with having committed an act that, if proven, could affect the license holder’s legal rights or privileges. The formal complaint must give the license holder notice of each act alleged to be a violation of a specific statute or rule. Lastly, the license holder must be notified of the complaint by service of process.
Next, the complainant and the respondent engage in the discovery process. The discovery process enables both parties to gather all relevant evidence and prepare for the hearing. The license holder can discover all information the board possesses and intends to offer into evidence in presenting its case in chief at the hearing. However, the license holder cannot discover a board investigative report or memorandum, the identity of a non-testifying complainant, attorney-client communications, or attorney work product. After the discovery period ends, the parties attend the SOAH hearing.
Board staff generally goes first by presenting their case in chief. The respondent is then given a chance to rebut the case in chief by challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and board staff’s legal arguments. At the end of the hearing, both parties may submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. The ALJ must then issue a Proposal for Decision (“PFD”), which includes findings of fact and conclusions of law. If any party is dissatisfied with the PFD, they may then file an exception to the ALJ’s PFD in order to request changes to either the findings of fact, conclusions of law, or both.
It is important to note that the Medical Board has the sole authority and discretion to determine the appropriate action or sanction in each case. This means that the ALJ may not make any recommendation regarding the appropriate action or sanction in the PFD. However, once the ALJ has issued a final PFD the board may not unilaterally change a finding of fact or conclusion of law. The board must seek judicial review in Travis County District Court if the board wants to challenge findings of fact or conclusions of law in a final PFD. Lastly, the board must dispose of the case by issuing a final order based on the ALJ’s findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Finally, any license holder that receives a disciplinary action by the board may appeal to Travis County District Court for judicial review of the final order. However, during the appeals process, the license holder may not practice in any manner that violates the disciplinary order of the board, unless the appropriate court stays it.