Chancery Court Overturns Tennessee Board of Nursing Discipline

Chancellor Ellen Lyle of Davidson County Chancery Court reversed the disciplinary actions order by the Tennessee Board of Nursing against my client, a Tennessee registered nurse (referred to hereafter as “the RN”). Chancellor Lyle’s decision, which was issued July 24, 2015, overturned the Board of Nursing’s Amended Order, issued pursuant a hearing before the Board of Nursing last August 2014.

Chancellor Lyle’s decision, which can be found in its entirety here, reversed the Board of Nursing’s suspension of the RN’s license based on the Board’s finding that the RN was addicted to drugs or alcohol to the degree of interfering with nursing duties, and that she was unfit, incompetent, and/or unprofessional due to the use or removal of drugs from the hospital where she worked. In her reversal, Chancellor Lyle found that the only statutory violation supported by the record was that the RN was unprofessional for having in her office controlled substances that had not been documented for a patient. As such, the Chancellor reversed the suspension, but left in effect an assessment of costs of approximately $2,300 against the RN.

Chancellor Lyle found that the Board’s findings that the RN was addicted to drugs or alcohol and unfit/incompetent were unsupported by the evidence from the hearing before the Board of Nursing in August 2014. Specifically, the Board of Nursing found that the RN was unfit, incompetent, and addicted to drugs or alcohol in contradiction to the overwhelming evidence against these conclusions. This evidence included: a physician’s evaluation stating “there are no indications that [the RN] has or has had a Substance Use Disorder,” overwhelming testimony from co-workers that the RN was never impaired or intoxicated in or outside of work, and a lack of evidence that the RN ever removed narcotics without authorization from her employer. In conclusion, Chancellor Lyle succinctly stated:

“When all of the record is viewed as a whole, the outcome is that: (1) the evidence to support the Board’s decision amounts to suspicions and (2) these suspicions are rebutted and undercut by the other evidence of the record…Under these circumstances, the decision of the Board must be reversed.”

Chancellor Lyle’s decision marks a triumphant and tearful day for this RN, whose work ethic as a nurse for 35 years and nursing supervisor for over 18 years has been widely praised and sought after across the country. Her reputation was battered by the unfounded accusations against her, which escalated from a complaint by her former employer in 2012 to a full-blown hearing before the Tennessee Board of Nursing in 2014. The Board has a duty to protect the public, and ensure that unsafe nurses are not permitted to practice in Tennessee. This duty, however, does not permit the Board to discipline a licensee based on suspicions and conjectures.

It should come as a relief to this RN—and all nurses across the state of Tennessee—to know that if an unfounded complaint is levied against you, Chancellors like Chancellor Lyle are willing to stand up and ensure that the Board of Nursing does not discipline your license based on mere suspicions. Hopefully for other licensees across the state, it won’t take three years and an appeal to Chancery Court to ensure that justice occurs.