Last month, a unanimous Illinois Supreme Court rejected assorted constitutional challenges to 2011 amendments to the Department of Professional Regulation Law governing medical licensing. In an opinion by Justice Burke, the Court affirmed the judgment of Division 1 of the First District Appellate Court in Hayashi v. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional RegulationOur detailed summary of the facts and lower court opinions is here. Our report on the oral argument is here.

On July 21, 2011, the Illinois General Assembly amended the Professional Regulation Law to provide that certain classifications of people should have their health care licenses permanently revoked without a hearing, including persons who had been convicted of criminal battery against a patient in the course of patient care or treatment and any criminal offense which required registration under the Sex Offender Registration Act. The Department duly issued notices to each of the plaintiffs, indicating that it would revoke their licenses pursuant to the Act because each had been convicted of one of the covered offenses. The plaintiffs filed separate actions seeking an injunction and a judicial declaration that the Act could constitutionally be applied only to convictions occurring after the effective date of the Act. The Circuit Court denied the plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary injunctions and granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Appellate Court affirmed.

The Supreme Court affirmed as well. The Court began by holding that the plain language of the Act demonstrated that the legislature intended the Act to apply to convictions before its effective date. The plaintiffs argued that applying the Act to them would render it impermissibly retroactive in violation of their due process rights. The Court disagreed. The test of retroactivity is found in Landgraf v. USI Film Products – a statute is applied retroactively when it impairs rights a party possessed when he or she acted, increases a party’s liability for past conduct, or imposes new duties with respect to transactions already completed. Given that the automatic revocation provision of the Act solely cancelled the plaintiffs’ licenses going forward, the Court held that the Act was not being applied retroactively, even though its application is based on antecedent facts.

Next, the plaintiffs argued that the Act deprived them of a fundamental property right in violation of the due process clause. The Court agreed that a party’s medical license was a property right within the meaning of the clause, but not that the right involved was fundamental. Instead, legislation infringing on the right to pursue a profession is subject only to rational basis analysis. Applying that test, the Court held that the penalties in the Act bore a reasonable relationship to a legitimate state purpose – regulating the medical professions for the protection of the public.

Next, the plaintiffs argued that the Act impaired their vested right of repose to be free from additional discipline based on their past acts. At the time of the plaintiffs’ acts, the Medical Practice Act provided that any disciplinary action must be commenced within three years of the Department receiving notice of misconduct. The difficulty, the Court held, was that the time bar provisions the plaintiffs relied on simply didn’t apply to the automatic revocation provisions of the 2011 amendments.

The Court next addressed the plaintiffs’ facial due process challenge to the Act. The test for procedural due process claims under Illinois law closely parallels the Federal test – the Court considers: (1) the private interest implicated; (2) the risk of an erroneous deprivation, and the value of additional safeguards; and (3) the government’s interest, including the administrative burdens of additional safeguards. The Court held that given the plaintiffs’ right to file a written objection upon notice of mandatory revocation, the risk of erroneous deprivation was not great, while the burden of retrying the plaintiffs’ cases would be considerable.

Finally, the plaintiffs argued that the revocation was barred by res judicata, since their disciplinary cases had already been concluded. The Court rejected plaintiffs’ claim on the grounds that the original disciplinary action and the mandatory revocation proceeding were not the same action for res judicata purposes.

Image courtesy of Flickr by jasleen_kaur (no changes).