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Monday, September 23, 2019

Appeals court overturns Kissimmee physician’s license restrictions

By Richard Jones | May 8, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal has granted a petition for review and quashed an order of emergency restriction of license against a Kissimmee-based physician.

In his petition, Dr. Harold Joseph Lawler III asked the court overturn an order issued the Department of Health (DOH) that blocks him from prescribing medications. Lawler argued that DOH had failed to demonstrate that the underlying facts of the department’s case against him rose to a level sufficient for the issuance of an emergency restriction order.

According to his petition, the DOH had failed to specifically prove that allowing him to continue to write prescriptions posed an immediate serious danger to the public, conduct that he is alleged to have committed will continue in the future; an emergency order is necessary to prevent the emergency; and the emergency order is fair on its face value.

In August 2016, the DOH issued the order after alleging that over a period of nearly 12 months Lawler overprescribed medication to an undercover agent for the Osceola County Investigative Bureau. According to the complaint, the agent visited Lawler and complained of severe back pain. Lawler took an MRI of the agent's back and concluded that there appeared to be no apparent source of the pain but still provided the agent with prescriptions for four different medications.  

In its order, the appeals panel ruled that DOH made allegations that were not supported by evidence or facts. DOH claimed Lawler engaged in acts of a deceitful and deliberate nature. The judges called these statements general and conclusory.

“Because the Department may not rely on general or conclusory statements to support the issuance of an ERO, the Department has failed to meet its burden of alleging the necessary facts to satisfy the elements for the issuance of an ERO," the panel wrote. "While the alleged course of treatment as to this patient is distressing, and if proven may be a basis for discipline, the factual support for a genuine emergency to the public is lacking."

Judges James R. Wolf,  Stephanie Ray and Scott Makar issued the decision.

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Florida First District Court of Appeal