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No-Show Practitioners Cannot Challenge Psych Exam Order, Court Says

The California Court of Appeal has ruled that a psychologist who failed to appear for a licensing board-ordered psychiatric exam has no grounds to challenge the subsequent suspension of his license.

The case involves a California psychologist who was notified by the California Board of Psychology that it was investigating complaints concerning his behavior and communications with patients. Though the psychologist, Dr. P, spoke with a board investigator over the telephone, he would not agree to a formal interview. Several months later, Dr. P refused to comply with a subpoena to appear and give testimony.

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Two months later, the Board issued an order compelling Dr. P to submit to a psychiatric examination within 30 days. The Board later modified that deadline to allow for an investigative interview. Following that interview, Dr. P’s neurologist wrote to the Board arguing that a psychiatric interview was not necessary. When Dr. P did not appear for the scheduled examination, the Board filed an accusation against him for discipline. An administrative law judge issued a recommendation that the Board revoke Dr. P’s license for his failure to comply with an order for a mental examination under California Business & Professions Code Section 820. The administrative law judge refused to allow Dr. P to submit evidence concerning the lack of good cause for the order compelling the exam.

In supporting the trial court judge who also ruled in favor of the Board, the California Court of Appeal considered the language of Section 820 authorizing a health licensing board to order such evaluations.

Whenever it appears that any person holding a license . . . may be unable to practice his or her professional safely because the licentiate’s ability to practice is impaired due to mental illness, or physical illness affecting competency, the licensing agency may order the licentiate to be examined by one or more physicians and surgeons or psychologists designated by the agency.

The Court of Appeal then cited Section 821, which provides:

[F]ailure to comply with an order issued under Section 820 shall constitute grounds for the suspension or revocation of the licentiate’s . . . license.

According to the Court of Appeal opinion, [P] v. Board of Psychology, Dr. P asked that the court determine “what standard must be shown for an order under Section 820. . . .” The Sacramento-based appellate court cited the statute itself and said that the Board may issue a Section 820 order “whenever it appears” to the Board that a licensed practitioner may be unable to practice his profession due to impairment from mental illness or physical illness affecting competency.

The Court of Appeal rejected Dr. P’s request that the court determine when a licensee may challenge that showing. The Court said that by not showing up for the examination, Dr. P had no basis to challenge the basis for the order.

In finding for the Psychology Board, the Court emphasized that the government interest in protecting the public is compelling:

“Section 820 was enacted for the express purpose of creating a mechanism to ensure the licensing agency had the power to revoke the license of a healing arts professional who was mentally ill. The actual ability to investigate whether the medical professional is indeed mentally ill is paramount to that call. That a revocation order may be issued suspending a license for noncompliance with a Section 820 order in pending revocation proceedings further underscores the importance of this interest.”   


Gordon Ownby is CAP’s General Counsel. Questions or comments related to “Case of the Month” should  be directed to