Dababnah v. WEST VIRGINIA BD. OF MEDICINE, No. 27751.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtSCOTT, Justice
Citation207 W.Va. 621,535 S.E.2d 220
PartiesMousa Ibraham DABABNAH, Petitioner Below, Appellant, v. WEST VIRGINIA BOARD OF MEDICINE, Respondent Below, Appellee.
Decision Date12 July 2000
Docket NumberNo. 27751.

535 S.E.2d 220
207 W.Va.
621

Mousa Ibraham DABABNAH, Petitioner Below, Appellant,
v.
WEST VIRGINIA BOARD OF MEDICINE, Respondent Below, Appellee

No. 27751.

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted June 13, 2000.

Decided July 12, 2000.


535 S.E.2d 222
John C. Yoder, Esquire, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, Attorney for Appellant

Deborah Lewis Rodecker, Esquire, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorney for Appellee.

535 S.E.2d 221
SCOTT, Justice

Through this appeal, Appellant Mousa I. Dababnah seeks a reversal of the Appellee West Virginia Board of Medicine's ("Board's") decision to deny his application seeking renewal of his medical license. The Circuit Court of Kanawha County affirmed the Board's actions based on its interpretation of the statutory provisions of West Virginia Code § 48A-5A-5(c) (1999), as authorizing licensing authorities, independent of any circuit court involvement, to deny any license request where the applicant has child support arrearages in an amount equivalent to six months of child support. Upon our review of the record in this matter in conjunction with the applicable statutes, we reverse,

535 S.E.2d 223
after determining that the statutory scheme of article 48A, chapter 5A, requires the involvement of a circuit court in a license denial which arises from the nonpayment of child support

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Dr. Dababnah was initially licensed to practice medicine in this state on January 13, 1976. A rather "acrimonious divorce and child support proceedings ... began in the Circuit Court of Raleigh County ... on December 22, 1993," which, due to Dr. Dababnah's non-payment of ordered child support,1 resulted in substantial child support arrearages. Dababnah v. West Virginia Board of Medicine, 47 F.Supp.2d 734, 736 (S.D.W.Va. 1999). In an attempt to comply with the biennial medical license renewal mandated by law, Dr. Dababnah submitted his partially completed application on June 16, 1998. By letter dated June 24, 1998, the Board returned the incomplete application, and requested specific responses to three items. One of these items was a question that inquired, as required by law, that a license applicant state whether he has any child support arrearages. See W.Va.Code § 48A-5A-5(c). When Dr. Dababnah resubmitted his renewal application,2 he did so without completing the questions concerning child support obligations and arrearages.

Dr. Dababnah received a letter from the Board on July 2, 1998, informing him that his application for renewal of his medical license had been denied.3 The Board's letter stated, in explanation of the denial, that Dr. Dababnah had failed to answer certain questions required to complete the application and that his child support arrearage was equal to or exceeded the six-month amount specified in West Virginia Code § 48A-5A-5(c).4 Pursuant to Dr. Dababnah's request, an administrative hearing was held on August 21, 1998, in connection with the Board's actions.5 The administrative hearing examiner issued a recommended decision on October 29, 1998, and the Board, by order dated, November 13, 1998, adopted the hearing examiner's decision6 confirming the "denial, expiration and lapse of Dr.... Dababnah's medical license effective July 1, 1998." Upon its review of the administrative ruling and evidence submitted, the circuit court similarly upheld the Board's actions. Dr. Dababnah seeks a reversal of the lower court's ruling that the Board's decision to deny his medical license based on child support arrearages was mandated by the provisions of subsection 5(c).

II. Standard of Review

Our review of this matter is governed by the standard articulated in syllabus point one of West Virginia Health Care Cost Review Authority v. Boone Memorial Hospital, 196 W.Va. 326, 472 S.E.2d 411 (1996):

535 S.E.2d 224
"`Upon judicial review of a contested case under the West Virginia Administrative Procedure[s] Act, Chapter 29A, Article 5, Section 4(g), the circuit court may affirm the order or decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings. The circuit court shall reverse, vacate or modify the order or decision of the agency if the substantial rights of the petitioner or petitioners have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, decisions or order are "(1) In violation of constitutional or statutory provisions; or (2) In excess of the statutory authority or jurisdiction of the agency; or (3) Made upon unlawful procedures; or (4) Affected by other error of law; or (5) Clearly wrong in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record; or (6) Arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion."` Syl. Pt. 2, Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department v. Human Rights Commission, 172 W.Va. 627, 309 S.E.2d 342 (1983)." Syllabus Point 1, St. Mary's Hospital v. State Health Planning and Development Agency, 178 W.Va. 792, 364 S.E.2d 805 (1987).

While Dr. Dababnah contends that the lower court incorrectly applied this standard, our review of the lower court's order convinces us otherwise. Rather than a misapplication by the circuit court of the pertinent principles of review,7 Dr. Dababnah appears to have misapprehended the lower court's recitation of its duty to adopt the Board's factual findings absent a determination that such factual findings were clearly wrong. We find no error with regard to the standard of review applied by the circuit court. Our review in this case is de novo based upon the presentation of pure legal questions involving issues of statutory interpretation. See Syl. Pt. 1, Appalachian Power Co. v. State Tax Dep't, 195 W.Va. 573, 466 S.E.2d 424 (1995).

III. Discussion

At the crux of this appeal is whether the Board, acting on its own without any involvement of a circuit court, has the authority to take action relative to a license renewal application pursuant to the provisions of West Virginia Code § 48A-5A-5(c). That statutory subsection reads as follows:

Each licensing authority shall require license applicants to certify on the license application form, under penalty of false swearing, that the applicant does not have a child support obligation, the applicant does have such an obligation but any arrearage amount does not equal or exceed the amount of child support payable for six months, or the applicant is not the subject of a child-support related subpoena or warrant. A license shall not be granted to any person who applies for a license if there is an arrearage equal to or exceeding the amount of child support payable for six months or if it is determined that the applicant has failed to comply with a warrant or subpoena in a paternity or child support proceeding. The application form shall state that making a false statement may subject the license holder to disciplinary action including, but not limited to, immediate revocation or suspension of the license.

Id. (emphasis supplied)

The Board takes the position that it is reposed with the necessary authority to unilaterally refuse to renew an applicant's license application based upon the underscored language in subsection 5(c), which mandates that licenses cannot be granted to individuals having child support arrearages in an amount equivalent to six months of aggregated child support.8 As further support for its position, the Board relies upon the fact that the West Virginia Bureau of Child Support Enforcement ("Child Support Enforcement"), interprets subsection 5(c) as empowering licensing authorities, such as the Board, with the authority to deny applications

535 S.E.2d 225
without consideration of the numerous protections set forth in the remaining sections of chapter 48A, article 5A, and without a need to first initiate proceedings before a circuit court relative to application denials predicated on child support arrearages.

As an initial matter, we note that the 1997 enactment of article 48A, chapter 5A, was prompted by federal legislation entitled the "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996" ("PRWORA"), otherwise known as the Welfare Reform Act, which requires that any state desirous of receiving federal funds in the form of block grants must have in place:

Procedures under which the State has (and uses in appropriate cases) authority to withhold or suspend, or to restrict the use of driver's licenses, professional and occupational licenses, and recreational and sporting licenses of individuals owing overdue support or failing, after appropriate notice, to comply with subpoenas or warrants relating to paternity or child support proceedings.

42 U.S.C.A. § 666(a)(16) (Supp.1999).9 The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals recently rejected the arguments advanced by the State of Kansas concerning the unconstitutionality of the PRWORA.10 Kansas maintained that the PRWORA-imposed requirements, which include the establishment of a state case registry containing all child support orders and imposition of various regulatory frameworks designed to ensure increased efficiency in child support enforcement, were "too onerous and expensive, necessitate[d] too much manpower, and encroach[ed] upon its ability to determine its own laws." State of Kansas v. United States, 214 F.3d 1196, 1198 (10th Cir.2000). In rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit recognized that "Congress' spending power enables it `to further broad policy objectives by conditioning receipt of federal moneys upon compliance by the recipient with federal statutory and administrative directives.'" Id. (quoting Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 474, 100 S.Ct. 2758, 65 L.Ed.2d 902 (1980)).11

The constitutional concerns raised by Dr. Dababnah arise from the Board's interpretation of subsection 5(c), and not from the constitutionality of article 48A, chapter 5A, as a whole. When applied in the fashion advocated by the Board, Dr. Dababnah...

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1 practice notes
  • Saunders v. Tri-State Block Corp., No. 26853.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 12 Julio 2000
    ...Company v. Federal Insurance Company of New York, supra. The Court notes that an additional assignment of error made by Tri-State Block 535 S.E.2d 220 Corporation and Glenn Straub is that the trial court erred in awarding David C. Saunders attorney fees without allowing them an opportunity ......
1 cases
  • Saunders v. Tri-State Block Corp., No. 26853.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 12 Julio 2000
    ...Company v. Federal Insurance Company of New York, supra. The Court notes that an additional assignment of error made by Tri-State Block 535 S.E.2d 220 Corporation and Glenn Straub is that the trial court erred in awarding David C. Saunders attorney fees without allowing them an opportunity ......

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