On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the New Jersey State Board of Psychological Examiners, Division of Consumer Affairs.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Grall and LeWinn.
Appellant appeals from the November 30, 2009 Final Agency Decision of the State Board of Psychological Examiners (Board) suspending her license to practice psychology in the state "for one year with six months active and six months stayed," provided that she comply with certain conditions; and providing further that "[u]pon the completion of six months of active suspension, [she] shall be granted leave to petition the Board... for consideration of reinstatement of her license[,]" subject to the condition that a "licensed New Jersey psychologist... shall provide supervision as directed by the Board of her practice for a minimum of one year"; and requiring her to "pay a penalty in the amount of $5000 for the violations found herein."*fn1 Appellant also appeals from the January 14, 2010 Supplemental Order of the Board requiring her to pay a total of $32,855.29 in fees and costs incurred by the State in this matter.
On appeal, appellant attacks the Board's decision on both procedural and substantive grounds. She contends that: (1) the Board's decision is invalid because it acted without the statutorily required quorum; (2) the Board's decision is an impermissible effort to regulate the practice of psychology through the disciplinary process; (3) findings in the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) are "[c]ontrary to [l]aw"; and (4) the Board's decision to impose a more severe penalty than that recommended by the ALJ was arbitrary and capricious. We find no merit to any of these contentions and affirm.
On February 4, 2008, the Attorney General charged appellant in a three-count complaint. Count I charged her with violating "appropriate boundaries between a therapist and a client," N.J.S.A. 45:1-21(e); endangering the health, welfare and safety of "the patients C.V. and M.A.," N.J.S.A. 45:1-21(c); repeated acts of negligence, N.J.S.A. 45:1-21(d); and the "failure to fulfill the ongoing statutory requirement of good moral character," N.J.S.A. 45:14B-14(b). Count II charged her with "[g]ross malpractice[,]" N.J.S.A. 45:1-21(c) and the misuse of her "influence as a therapist in a manner that exploited C.V.'s and M.A.'s trust and dependency," N.J.A.C. 13:42-10.8 and N.J.S.A. 45:1-21(h). Count III charged her with the "use or employment of dishonesty, fraud, deception, misrepresentation and false pretense[,]" N.J.S.A. 45:1-21(b); the "failure to cooperate with an inquiry of the Board[,]" N.J.A.C. 13:45C-1.2 and N.J.S.A. 45:1-21(h); and "[p]rofessional misconduct[,]" N.J.S.A. 45:1-21(e).
The gravamen of these allegations was that appellant, a licensed psychologist specializing in behavioral therapy, "developed an inappropriately close, personal and social relationship with her patient C.V.[,]" in that, at C.V.'s expense, she accompanied him to a professional convention in the Bahamas, shared a hotel room with him "for at least two nights," and spent "considerable time... and dined together" with C.V. on at least two occasions. The complaint further alleged that appellant "discussed intimate details of her personal life with C.V."
The complaint also alleged that M.A., who had been in and out of a relationship with C.V., "divulged to [appellant] the most intimate emotional and sexual details of [her] relationship [with] C.V.[,]... and... [appellant] inappropriately exploited... her position as C.V.'s therapist and improperly used the information she acquired during psychotherapy to develop a close social relationship with C.V."
Finally, the complaint charged that, when the Board sent appellant a request for a written response to its initial inquiry, appellant withheld information and engaged in "dishonesty, fraud, deception... and false pretense" in her response.
The matter was referred to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) as a contested case. The Board moved for summary disposition; appellant cross-moved for summary disposition in her favor. On November 17, 2008, the ALJ entered an Order on Partial Summary Decision, noting that, as a result of a pre-hearing conference on May 15, 2008, "the issues to be resolved are 1) whether the doctor violated the standard of care with respect to a former patient, and 2) if there was a violation, then what would be the proper penalty[.]" The order set forth the following "[u]ndisputed [f]acts":
1. [Appellant]... is a licensed psychologist in New Jersey....
2. C.V. is a fifty-three-year-old police officer who began seeing [appellant] for individual psychotherapy on or about November 28, 2003. He complained of anger-management problems and stress from his adult son and caring for his elderly father. He was also experiencing problems with his girlfriend, M.A.
3. The [appellant] saw C.V. on a weekly basis for nine months.
4. During C.V.'s sessions with [appellant], he discussed family issues, including difficulties in his relationship with his long-term girlfriend, M.A. M.A. attended three joint sessions with C.V.
5. On September 7, 2004, C.V. and [appellant] agreed to terminate the professional relationship because C.V. had achieved his treatment goals.
6. C.V. was scheduled to attend a Police Benevolent Association (PBA) convention in the Bahamas from September 19 to September 25, 2004. Originally, M.A. was supposed to accompany C.V. on the trip. However, M.A. and C.V. had difficulties and M.A. decided not to attend.
7. A few days after C.V. stopped treating with [appellant], he telephoned her and asked her to accompany him to the PBA convention. [Appellant] initially declined the invitation, but a few days later she agreed to go with him.
8. [Appellant] and C.V. traveled together from Newark to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas on September 19, 2004. [Appellant] and C.V. shared a hotel room for several days between September 19 and September 24, 2004. According to C.V., they shared one bed.
9. [Appellant] left the Bahamas before C.V. on or about September 24, 2004.
10. [Appellant] received a letter from the Board dated January 14, 2005.
11. [Appellant] sent a letter to the Board on January 31, 2005, in ...