The state Supreme Court in Texas has ruled that government officials cannot give defendants incorrect instructions for appealing their case and then punish them for following the instructions.
The case involved home health aide Patricia Mosley and allegations that some of her treatment was insufficient.
A state board recommended punishment and told her – incorrectly – how to appeal. She followed the instructions she was given and then was told she was out of luck.
The Institute for Justice filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Mosley’s due process rights, and the Supreme Court agreed the case should be reopened.
“The government lied to Patricia Mosley about how to properly appeal a decision barring her from working as a home health aide, and this morning the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the government’s actions violated her due process rights,” IJ said.
“Mosley is a nurse who was placed on an ‘Employee Misconduct Registry’ maintained by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. In an official letter sent to Mosley, the department misstated the procedure to appeal this decision. After Mosley followed the letter’s instructions, she was informed that her appeal had not been filed properly and that she had no further recourse in the law. This effectively barred Mosley from her job,” the organization said.
“The court, in an opinion penned by Justice Jeff Brown, ruled that the department violated Mosley’s right to due process with Justice Jimmy Blacklock writing in the concurrence, ‘This is not primarily a case about Mosley’s ignorance of the law. It is a case about the government’s ignorance of the law,'” said IJ.
“The Texas Supreme Court got it exactly right,” said IJ attorney Anya Bidwell, the lead author on the brief. “The government cannot mislead individuals and then turn around and say: ‘The joke is on you. You shouldn’t have trusted us.’ People have a right to due process and government has a constitutional obligation to provide it. No excuses.”
The opinion said, “Because the remedy for a deprivation of due process is due process, we direct the Health and Human Services Commission to reinstate Mosley’s administrative case to afford her an opportunity to seek rehearing of the order entered against her.”
The judges explained the state had investigated an incident involving Mosley’s care of a group-home resident and confirmed a finding of “reportable conduct.”
Mosley requested a hearing, at which a decision against her was made. The state then provided incorrect instructions for making an appeal.
“The department and the commission … concede the letter and the regulation therein contained bad information,” the judge said, and “an internal department memo suggests its staff knew the regulation created some due-process issues.”
But the state said Mosley should know the law anyway.
“They argue the incorrect statements did not, as a matter of law, prevent Mosley from filing a motion for rehearing and obtaining judicial review.”
The court said the question “is whether the commission’s misleading letter deprived Mosley of her right to seek judicial review.”
“It would be nonsensical to require Mosley to raise a constitutional challenge in a motion for rehearing when her constitutional complaint is that the agencies misdirected her away from moving for rehearing,” the court said.
The agency actions then “effectively deprived Mosley of her right to judicial review and violated her right to due process.”