Alleging their Constitutional rights have been violated, a band of national physicians have retaliated against the entire Texas Medical Board (TMB) by filing a federal lawsuit.
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons is accusing TMB of using anonymous complaints to intimidate and retaliate against its doctors.
The complaint, filed on Friday, Dec. 26, in the U.S. District Court in Texarkana, Texas, accuses the board of misconduct, manipulation of anonymous complaints, violation of due process, breach of privacy and retaliation against those who speak out against the board.
"The situation has reached the crisis point for patients and doctors," said Jane M. Orient, M.D, Executive Director of AAPS in a press release. "Our members are too afraid of retaliation to sue the Board as individuals."
The lawsuit specifically points out misconduct by Roberta Kalafut, the TMB president, claiming that Kalafut "arranged for her husband to file anonymous complaintsÃ¯Â¿Â½"
"AAPS members have suffered actual and threatened injury in the form of disciplinary procedures, breaches of confidentiality and privacy, denial of due process, and retaliation by the TMB and the other Defendants which violate the U.S. Constitution," the suit said.
AAPS members say they feared retaliation if they sued the TMB individually. During a legislative hearing on Oct. 23, 2007, several physicians testified about retaliation, and fear of retaliation, by the TMB against them, the press release and suit said.
"Representative Corbin Van Arsdale, who served on the legislative panel that heard testimony from physicians on Oct. 23, commented that 'I've heard about the fear of the doctors being sort of retaliated against by the Board,'" the suit said.
The lawsuit demands that the court put an immediate stop the alleged abuses committed by the Board, "and that previous disciplinary actions tainted by the Board's violations be re-opened."
"The declaratory and injunctive relief will prevent ongoing and imminent future injury and enable AAPS members to redress past injury by re-opening tainted TMB proceedings," the suit said. "The requested declaratory and injunctive relief does not require the participation of individual AAPS members. The protection of its members from arbitrary and improper government actions is central to AAPS's purpose."
The suit continues by alleging that AAPS members' free speech rights were violated, saying that members expressed criticism of TMB in the media and on the Internet, and that TMB closely monitored the media to ascertain which physicians they needed to retaliate against by submitting anonymous complaints.
"Doctors in Texas should not be forced to practice in this atmosphere of fear and intimidation," said Dr. Orient in the press release. "Complaints from our members have identified the TMB as probably the worst in the country. It's bad for patients when their doctors are afraid that doing the right thing could result in licensure action."
According to the Texas Medical Board Web site, the state agency is responsible for the licensure and discipline of Texas physicians.
"The Board's mission is to protect the public's health, safety, and welfare by regulating the practice of medicine and ensuring quality health care for the citizens of Texas," the site states.
In addition to declaratory and injunctive relief, the group is suing for attorneys' fees and court costs.
The group is represented by attorney Andrew L. Schlafly of New Jersey and Karen Tripp of Houston.