WILMINGTON, Del. – The Supreme Court of Delaware has agreed with the state Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline that a Pennsylvania neurologist violated regulations concerning the use of controlled substances for pain management, in connection with a patient of his who was addicted to heroin.
In its Jan. 8 ruling, the Delaware high court reversed a decision from the state’s Superior Court and affirmed the original ruling on the matter from the Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline, towards Dr. Bruce Grossinger.
Specifically, the Board found that Grossinger failed to properly document his heroin-addicted patient Michael’s history of substance abuse, discuss with him the risks and benefits of treatment with controlled substances, order urine samples or require pill counts, and keep accurate and complete treatment records.
After an evidentiary hearing, the hearing officer assigned to the matter recommended that the Board find Grossinger guilty of unprofessional conduct, that his medical license to practice be placed on probation for six months, that he complete nine continuing-medical-education hours and pay a $2,000 fine.
When the matter initially concluded in October 2016, the Board instead issued a letter of reprimand against Grossinger, instead of placing his license on probation.
Grossinger appealed that decision to the Superior Court of Delaware, which found in his favor and concluded that some of the regulations Grossinger was accused of violating were “unconstitutionally vague” in reference to him, that the Board was required to have expert testimony in the case to establish the standard of care and that the doctor’s rights to due process were violated, because the Board supposedly relied on its own expertise instead of on-the-record evidence.
Both parties cross-appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Delaware, with the Board appealing the Superior Court’s reversal of all but one of the findings, and Grossinger appealing the Superior Court’s refusal to reverse the remaining finding.
However, the state Supreme Court disagreed with the lower court’s ruling and felt the Board’s original decision to discipline Grossinger was based on sufficient evidence of failing to take into account Michael’s addiction before prescribing him opiates for treatment of pain.
The Supreme Court of Delaware said the doctor had not documented Michael’s treatment history with addiction, in violation of Board regulations.
“Regulations clearly require documentation of the patient’s ‘history of substance abuse’ – which includes a history of treatment of such substance abuse. Dr. Grossinger does not explain how this clear statement in the regulation did not put him on notice that he was required to document Michael’s substance-abuse history, something he failed to do in any fashion,” Supreme Court of Delaware Justice Gary Traynor said.
Michael died on Dec. 12, 2014. Not knowing of Michael’s death, Grossinger’s practice discharged him as a patient two days later after a urine sample indicated heroin use.
The state Supreme Court did make clear and note for the record that Grossinger and his practice were not found to be directly responsible for Michael’s death on Dec. 12, 2014.
“Although Michael died while under the care of Grossinger Neuropain Specialists, the medical practice with which Dr. Grossinger is associated, it is important to emphasize here that the Board did not charge Dr. Grossinger or his partners with causing Michael’s death,” Traynor stated.
“Michael’s death did, however, provide the impetus for his grieving mother’s complaint to the Division of Professional Regulation and the resulting investigation and disciplinary proceeding.”
Proceedings Ongoing In Delaware County Court Of Common Pleas Case
Simultaneously, Grossinger is a defendant in an ongoing action in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas, which saw plaintiff Valerie Crabbe claim the neurologist sexually harassed her in a bizarre fashion two years ago.
The allegations included the neurologist supposedly throwing an orange slice in her cleavage, making obscene gestures and also making sexually explicit jokes.
Through counsel, Grossinger unequivocally denied those same allegations and submitted affidavits from anonymous witnesses that refute the plaintiff’s story.
In a pair of witness affidavits taken with employees of more than a decade at the doctor’s practice, Grossinger Neuropain Specialists, both employees, whose names were redacted to protect their identities, denied the salacious allegations in their entirety and each stated that Grossinger never made any lewd or profane remarks or gestures to the plaintiff, his fellow employees or threats about the Super Bowl, and never threw an orange slice at the plaintiff’s cleavage.
The neurologist’s attorneys countered that there is no basis for Crabbe’s allegations and given their “scandalous and impertinent” nature, their filing of preliminary objections was suitably justified.
The latter action remains pending in the Delaware County of Common Pleas, where for counts of assault and battery and negligence, Crabbe is seeking compensatory damages in excess of $50,000, plus punitive damages, attorney’s fees and costs if applicable and such other relief as appears reasonable and just in this matter.
The plaintiff is represented by Jonathan J. James of James Schwartz & Associates, in Philadelphia.
The defendants are represented by James J. Kutz and Charles W. Spitz of Post & Schell, George Bochetto, Jeffrey W. Ogren and Kiersty M. DeGroote of Boccheto & Lentz, all in Philadelphia, plus Hugh J. Donaghue and Tyler J. Therriault of Donaghue & Labrum, in Media.
Supreme Court of Delaware case 53-2019
Delaware County Court of Common Pleas case 2018-005869
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at email@example.com