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Doane v. Department of Health And Human Services

Supreme Court of Maine

September 12, 2017


          Argued: April 12, 2017

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, Thomas C. Bradley, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Christopher C. Taub, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellant Department of Health and Human Services

          Christopher C. Taintor, Esq. (orally), Norman, Hanson & DeTroy, LLC, Portland, for appellee Stephen Doane


          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶l] The Department of Health and Human Services appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) declaring that the District Court-not the Department-has exclusive original jurisdiction over the decision to terminate physician Steven Doane's participation in, and reimbursement from, MaineCare and any other medical assistance programs in Maine.[1] The Department argues that the court erred in concluding that a provider's participation in MaineCare constitutes a "license, " the revocation of which invokes District Court jurisdiction. See 4 M.R.S. §152(9) (2016); 5 M.R.S. §§ 8002(5), 10051(1) (2016). We agree that jurisdiction did not lie in the District Court, and we vacate the court's judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following undisputed facts are drawn from the record of the proceedings in the Superior Court and the undisputed statements of material facts presented on Doane's motion for summary judgment. See Grant v. Foster Wheeler, LLC, 2016 ME 85, ¶ 2, 140 A.3d 1242. Stephen Doane is a physician licensed to practice in Maine by the Board of Licensure in Medicine. That Board censured Doane in March 2015 for (1) being insufficiently aware of the hazards associated with the opiate medications he was prescribing to a patient who ultimately died of accidental oxycodone and cyclobenzaprine intoxication, (2) failing to follow up on information from other doctors about that patient, and (3) violating a Board rule regarding the use of controlled substances for pain treatment. The Board found that Doane had not created a written treatment plan, discussed with the patient the risks and benefits of using controlled substances, implemented a written agreement outlining patient responsibilities, or kept accurate and complete medical records. The Board renewed his license, but it imposed terms of probation and required him to pay $12, 000 to the Board for the costs of investigation and enforcement.

         [¶3] In a letter dated April 9, 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services informed Doane that it had decided to terminate his participation in, or reimbursement from, the MaineCare program. The Department stated that it took its action pursuant to the MaineCare Benefits Manual, 14 C.M.R. 10 144 101-1-9, -26 to -28, §§ 1.03-6, 1.19-1 to -3 (2014), [2]and the authority granted by the federal government through 42 C.F.R. part 1002 (2016). Specifically, the Department indicated that the sanction was being imposed because Doane had violated the "regulations or code of ethics governing the conduct of occupations or professions or regulated industries, " had failed to "meet standards required for State or Federal law for participation (e.g. licensure or certification requirements), " and had received a "[f]ormal reprimand or censure [from] an association of the provider's peers for unethical practices." 14 C.M.R. 10 144 101-1-26 to -27, § 1.19-1(M), (O), (R).

         [¶4] The letter informed Doane that he could request informal review of the determination within sixty days after receiving the letter and that if he disagreed with the result of that review, he could request an administrative hearing within sixty days after receiving the informal review decision. See 14 C.M.R. 10 144 101-I-33 to -34, §1.21 (2013); see also 5 M.R.S. §§8001-11008 (2016). Doane requested informal review. The Department, after informal review, affirmed the initial decision terminating Doane's participation in MaineCare and informed Doane, by letter dated September 11, 2015, of his right to request an administrative hearing within sixty days.

         [¶5] On September 23, 2015, Doane filed a complaint in the Superior Court seeking a declaratory judgment that the Department's decision terminating his participation in, and reimbursement by, the MaineCare program constituted a license revocation-a decision over which the District Court has exclusive original jurisdiction. See 4 M.R.S. § 152(9); 5 M.R.S. §§8002(5), 10051(1); M.R. Civ. P. 80G. He sought an order enjoining the progress of the administrative proceeding to terminate his participation in the programs. Doane also filed a request for an administrative hearing with the Department on November 5, 2015, but he later filed a motion in the Superior Court declaratory judgment proceeding seeking a preliminary injunction enjoining the Department from utilizing the administrative proceeding to revoke that alleged license.

         [¶6] The Department moved to dismiss Doane's declaratory judgment complaint on the ground that no license had been revoked but rather the Department had determined not to contract with Doane. It referred to and attached Doane's employer's provider agreement with the Department that was in effect at the time of the events that led to Doane's discipline by the Board of Licensure in Medicine. The Department also attached a copy of the decision of the Board of Licensure in Medicine allowing Doane to continue practicing medicine in Maine.

         [¶7] Doane opposed the motion to dismiss and moved for summary judgment, submitting a statement of material facts with supporting evidence. The Department filed a responsive statement of material facts admitting the pertinent facts and additionally referring to the informal review decision.

         [¶8] The court entered a judgment on July 1, 2016, in which it denied the Department's motion to dismiss and granted Doane's motion for summary judgment, essentially providing the declaratory relief sought by Doane. The court concluded that the ability to provide and be reimbursed for MaineCare patient treatment constituted a form of permission that fell within the statutory definition of a "license" provided in 4 M.R.S. § 152(9) and 5 M.R.S. § 8002(5), and therefore that the District Court had exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate the Department's proposed termination of Doane's participation in the MaineCare program.

         [¶9] The Department timely appealed from the judgment. See 14 M.R.S. §§ 1851, 5959 (2016); M.R. App. P. 2. Upon inquiry from the court, Doane filed a letter indicating that he did not intend to pursue the motion for preliminary injunction at that time.


         [¶10] At the outset, we agree with the Superior Court that it had the authority to rule on the legal dispute raised here. "When a party seeks relief that is beyond the jurisdiction of the administrative agency . . . and when it would be futile for the plaintiffs to complete the administrative appeal process [, ] the party need not exhaust its administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief." Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians v. Boyce, 1997 ME 4, ¶ 11, 688 A.2d 908 (alterations in original) (quotation marks omitted). Moreover, a jurisdictional issue such as that raised here "may be raised at any time in a proceeding." Ford Motor Co. v. Darling's [Darling's I), 2014 ME 7, ¶ 41, 86 A.3d 35. Accordingly, we review the court's summary judgment.

          A. Summary Judgment and the Standard of Review

         [¶11] Summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith" if the supported statements of material facts "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact set forth in those statements and that any party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." M.R. Civ. P. 56(c). The relevant facts are not in dispute, and we review the summary judgment de novo for errors of law. Harlor v. Amica Mut. Ins. Co., 2016 ME 161, ¶ 7, 150 A.3d 793.

         [¶12] We also review de novo whether a trial court has subject matter jurisdiction. Midland Funding LLC v. Walton, 2017 ME 24, ¶ 12, 155 A.3d 864. Generally, court jurisdiction is "strictly a function of statute." Norris Family Assocs., LLC v. Town of Phippsburg, 2005 ME 102, ¶ 21, 879 A.2d 1007. Statutory interpretation is also reviewed de novo. Carignan v. Dumas, 2017 ME 15, ¶ 14, 154 A.3d 629.

         [¶13] In interpreting statutes, our primary objective is "to discern and give effect to the Legislature's intent." Ford Motor Co. v. Darling's (Darling's II),2016 ME 171, ¶ 24, 151 A.3d 507 (quotation marks omitted). "To determine that intent, we first look to the statute's plain meaning and the entire statutory scheme of which the provision at issue forms a part." Id. (quotation marks omitted). We determine the plain meaning of a statute "by taking into account the subject matter and purposes of the statute, and the consequences of a particular interpretation." Id. (quotation marks omitted). We will reject statutory interpretations "that are inimical to the public interest or that produce absurd or illogical results." Id. (quotation marks omitted). Only if the meaning of a statute is ambiguous after applying these principles will we consider extrinsic ...

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