How the Veterinary Medical Board uses Citations Against You

Like many other licensing agencies, the California Veterinary Medical Board (“Board”) issues citations to its licensees for minor transgressions or infractions of the law.  Business and Professions Code Section 125.9 authorizes licensing agencies to issue citations.  In particular, the Veterinary Practice Act, Business and Professions Code Section 4875.2 authorizes the Board to issue citations to veterinarians.  By regulation, the Board has created three categories of citations including Class A for the most serious violations, Class B for mid-range violations where the action of a veterinarian causes the death of a pet or the substantial likelihood of injury or death to the pet, and Class C violations are the most minor.
Over the years, the Board and its staff have claimed that Board citations are like a “traffic ticket.”  While the Supreme Court of California has made clear that citations by definition are not “license discipline,” they are far from being like a “traffic ticket.”  This is true for several reasons.
First, in the event the Board takes subsequent disciplinary action against a veterinarian, it will attempt to use the citations as an “aggravating factor” to obtain a higher level of discipline.  Even if a prior citation is for a record keeping violation and a subsequent accusation is for a complaint involving alleged negligence, the Board will attempt to bolster its penalty in the negligence accusation case by claiming the veterinarian has a prior citation and by listing it.  Because the Board only keeps citations in its files for a period of five years, it only goes back five years in looking for citations to bolster disciplinary penalties.
Second, citations are public records that can be accessed by the public.  While the fact that the veterinarian has a citation shows up on the Board’s website, a copy of the citation does not. You simply cannot click on the “pdf” file and have it appear like an accusation will, and instead must actually contact the Board to obtain a copy.
Finally, while a veterinarian has the right to a full evidentiary hearing to appeal even the most minor citations, the issue is usually one of cost. Even though the citation language and “findings” can be quite severe, because the range of citation fines with the Board is $500.00 to $1500.00, it is simply not worth appealing almost all citations based upon the cost of doing so. These costs include participating in a full evidentiary hearing, expert witnesses, subpoenaing witnesses, and legal fees.
For example, in a case with a $1,000.00 fine, a veterinarian can make the cost-benefit analysis not to appeal but will have to live with language stating that “Dr. Greene was grossly negligent in failure to run additional blood tests on the patient which allowed liver disease to progress significantly.”  In that case, Dr. Greene has to live with this language in a public citation for a period of five years.  And if she receives license discipline during that time, the Board will certainly try to obtain a much more severe penalty.