Monday, December 12, 2016

Actions that "may" cause emotional harm justify revocation of license to run a home for the developmentally disabled even if those actions do not cause actual emotional harm.

Today, the Appellate Division upheld a decision by the Department of Human Services to revoke a woman's license to operate a residence for developmentally disabled people.  According to the decision, licensee Alice Wilkins, after days of having dealt with a defiant 20-year-old patient who had been "crying, cursing, screaming, and punching the walls," told the patient that she would have her "locked up in Ancora [Psychiatric Hospital]."  She also admitted to having locked the front door of the residence after the patient left with a packed bag, even though she did immediately let the patient back into the house after she banged on the door.  According to the decision, the patient, identified only as F.D, "had a history of disagreements with her caregivers" and "there were several reports of documented instances of F.D. falsely accusing other mentors and their family members of misconduct," including false claims about a teacher making advances toward her and a mentor's family member raping her.

An Administrative Law Judge reversed the Department's decision to revoke Wilkins' license.  The judge found that events occurring during the days leading up to the "Ancora" threat "amply portrayed F.D.'s deteriorating behavior and tendency to provoke, manipulate or lie."  The judge also noted that Wilkins had reached out to her employer and the Department of Developmental Disabilities for help with F.D. but that neither assisted her.  The judge ultimately found that Wilkins did not lock F.D. out of the house and that her "Ancora" comment was "not abusive when viewed in context."

The Department reversed the Administrative Law Judge's decision because "the fact that Wilkins' actions were not intention did not excuse them," that "verbal threats and demeaning statements . . . may cause emotional harm" and that "it is not relevant that there is no actual emotional harm, as long as the actions . . . are of a type that may cause emotional harm."  The Department also ruled that that neither Wilkins' remorse nor the amount of stress that she was under excused her actions.

The Appellate Division, which is required to uphold the Department's decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, upheld Wilkins' license revocation.  The two-judge panel said that while it "appreciate[d] the [judge's] concerns regarding the harshness of the revocation of Wilkins' license based upon the actions of a single day when she acted under stress, especially where the blame for the incident should be shared with those who ignored her prior pleas for help," it also recognized "that the primary concern of the agency and the applicable regulations are to protect very vulnerable, developmentally disabled individuals, who are frequently difficult to manage from even unintentional abuse and neglect."