Pritzker Indicates That IDFPR Will Take Action Against Professional Licensees Who Jump The Gun On Reopening

After over two months on personal and professional lockdown, we all want things to return to some semblance of “normal” at the earliest opportunity, while also remaining cognizant of the continuing public health risks posed by COVID-19. Business owners and service providers, including those who hold professional licenses, are desperate to get back to work and bring in income after sitting idle for what seems like forever.

But we are currently only in phase two of Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration five-phase “Restore Illinois” plan. This means that, depending on the course of the virus in the coming weeks, most businesses will continue to remain shuttered or extremely limited in operations for weeks to come, at minimum.

That’s not good enough for many professionals and business owners, especially in less hard-hit areas Downstate. From bars to salons to retail stores, many folks are defying public health orders and are opening their doors despite the prohibitions against doing so. But if you hold a professional license and start serving customers, clients, or patients in violation of the state’s current rules, you could be putting your professional license at risk.

In recent days, Pritzker has made it clear that he will turn up the heat on those businesses that open prematurely. This includes professional licensees.  At his May 14th daily COVID-19 briefing, Pritzker sternly issued the following warning:

“For the small minority of businesses that choose to ignore the medical doctors and the data and to ignore your legal obligations for the residents of your communities, there will be consequences. Businesses that ignore the executive orders, that ignore the law, will be held accountable by our department of Professional Regulation. There are enforcement mechanisms here that we will be using against them.”

“Practicing Beyond the Scope Permitted By Law”

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) has not as of yet issued any statements relating to the governor’s comments or provided any detail as to what actions they plan on taking, if any, against licensees who provide services to the public in violation of applicable laws and orders. However, it seems clear that they have the power to sanction licensees for such transgressions, including suspending their licenses.

All Illinois professional licensing acts enumerate scores of reasons a licensee can face disciplinary action, as do the administrative rules that apply to each act. Violating applicable laws or orders, or putting the health and safety of the public at risk, generally can constitute bases for sanctions against a licensee.

For example, the administrative rules that govern barbers, hairstylists, nail salons, and other cosmetologists provide that IDFPR “may suspend or revoke a license, refuse to issue or renew a license, or take other disciplinary action based upon its findings of dishonorable, unethical or unprofessional conduct… which is interpreted to include, but is not limited to, the following acts or practices:

  • Engaging in conduct likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public, or demonstrating a willful disregard for the health, welfare or safety of a client or student.  Actual injury need not be established;
  • Practicing or offering to practice beyond the scope permitted by law, or accepting and performing professional responsibilities that the licensee knows or has reason to know that he/she is not competent to perform;

Again, it remains unclear how aggressively IDFPR will pursue licensees who violate COVID-19 restrictions before they are lifted. Hopefully, it will be a moot point soon enough. But until then, licensees should be aware that they may be putting their business or career at long-term risk for short-term gain.

Louis Fine: Chicago Professional License Defense Attorney

This is an unprecedented and challenging time for everyone, including licensed professionals. During this crisis, I remain committed to being a resource, counselor, and advocate for all Illinois licensees as they navigate the rapidly changing legal, regulatory, and practical landscape.

If you have questions or concerns about your professional license or COVID-19, please contact me immediately. Call (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.

Flying Blind: When Your Professional License Comes Under Attack, Will You Even Know Why?

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” While the Fifth Amendment only applies to the federal government, the Fourteenth Amendment provides identical protections from unfair deprivation of those things by a state.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is a body of the state of Illinois. And your professional license is your property, likely one of your most valuable possessions insofar as your livelihood depends on it. This means that when the IDFPR initiates formal proceedings that could result in the denial, suspension, or revocation of your license, you are entitled to due process of law before they take such actions.

But due process in the context of administrative hearings like those before the IDFPR may not mean what you think it means. In fact, there is a good chance that you won’t receive the same due process protections that are your rights in a criminal prosecution or even in a civil lawsuit. This includes being fully informed of the allegations against you.

Due process involves many substantive and procedural aspects depending on the nature of the proceedings. One such element of due process is the right to know exactly why you are in the crosshairs of prosecutors, a plaintiff, or an administrative body. After all, you can’t properly mount a defense if you don’t know what you are defending yourself against.

In criminal cases, the Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right “to be informed of the nature and cause of the allegation” they face. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as Illinois’ rules of civil procedure, contain similar requirements that a plaintiff’s complaint must provide sufficient detail to apprise the defendant of the claim for which they are being sued.  

When a complaint fails to contain enough information to either support a claim or afford the defendant an ability to respond, the defendant can move to dismiss the complaint on that basis.

Licensees facing formal IDFPR disciplinary action also have the right to be adequately advised of the allegations against them and can move to dismiss a complaint if the Department falls short in this regard.

The problem is that the standards that apply in administrative proceedings are much more forgiving to those making the accusations, allowing them to pursue catastrophic sanctions against licensees with minimal detail as to why they are doing so.

Under the Illinois Administrative Procedure Act (APA), agencies like the IDFPR only need to provide the following in their formal complaints regarding the claims against a licensee:

  • A statement of the legal authority and jurisdiction under which  the proceeding is to be held;
  • A reference to the particular sections of the substantive and procedural statutes and rules involved;
  • Except where a more detailed statement is required by law, a short and plain statement of the matters asserted;

Courts have held that the charges filed before an administrative agency like IDFPR “need not be drawn with the precision required of pleadings in judicial actions. They only must be drawn sufficiently so that the alleged wrongdoer is reasonably apprised of the case against him to intelligently prepare his defense.” Siddiqui v. Department of Professional Regulation.

“In determining whether the respondent has adequate notice, a court may consider the discovery and other materials available to the respondent.” Secrest v. Department of Corrections. But this just leads to another due process problem inherent in IDFPR proceedings.

Limited Discovery Rights

The process of investigating, obtaining evidence, and eliciting testimony relevant to a case – whether it be a civil, criminal, or administrative proceeding like IDFPR disciplinary hearings – is known as “discovery.” It’s how the parties find out the facts, whether they help or hurt their respective cases. It is a fundamental aspect of fairness, and if a party is not permitted to fully develop the evidence necessary to support their case or challenge the evidence obtained by the other side, it is an inherently unfair process.

In formal IDFPR disciplinary proceedings, the licensee’s ability to pursue the discovery necessary to defend themselves is extremely limited. In fact, the extent of allowable discovery is determined by the very people who are prosecuting the case. Once the Department provides names of witnesses, including the name of any individual whose complaint may be at the heart of the proceedings, a respondent cannot take their depositions unless the Department’s attorney agrees. If the Department nixes a deposition request, that means the respondent will not be able to confront that witness, learn what his testimony will be, or attack the veracity of his testimony until the actual hearing. That is manifestly unjust and leaves a respondent and their attorney fighting with one arm tied behind their back.

Similarly, if there are witnesses that the licensee wishes to subpoena for testimony, those subpoenas have to be authorized and approved by the Department. Again, the very people seeking to deprive someone of their professional license can also deprive them of their ability to defend themselves.

With the deck so stacked against licensees, it is crucial that you retain an experienced IDFPR defense attorney to protect your rights, your license, and your livelihood if you find yourself in the Department’s sights.

Louis Fine: Chicago Professional License Defense Attorney

The moment you are contacted by IDFPR or learn that you are under investigation is the moment that you should contact me. I will immediately begin communicating with IDFPR prosecutors and work with you to develop the strategy best suited to achieving the goal of an efficient, cost-effective outcome that avoids any adverse action. Together, we will get you back to your clients and your career.

Please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for your free initial consultation. I look forward to meeting with you.