Watts v. Burkhart

Decision Date12 August 1988
Docket NumberNo. 86-5526,86-5526
Citation854 F.2d 839
PartiesBobby WATTS, M.D., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. John H. BURKHART, M.D., et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

David A. Nelson, Circuit Judge, filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

William M. Barrick (argued), Nashville, Tenn., David B. Lyons, for plaintiff-appellant.

W.J. Michael Cody, Atty. Gen., C. Blair Scoville (argued), Debra K. Inglis, Kent E. Krause, Brewer, Krause & Brooks, Nashville, Tenn., for defendants-appellees.

Before MARTIN and NELSON, Circuit Judges, and CONTIE, Senior Circuit Judge.

CONTIE, Senior Circuit Judge.

Appellant Bobby Watts, a physician licensed to practice medicine in Tennessee, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, seeking to enjoin a pending state administrative proceeding initiated by the Tennessee Division of Health Related Boards (Division) for the purpose of summarily suspending Watts' license to practice medicine. Watts also sought damages on the grounds that the Division and the members of the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners (Board) had violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the fourteenth amendment. The district court declined to grant an injunction and dismissed Watts' action, finding that the action was subject to the rule enunciated in Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 68 L.Ed.2d 420 (1981).

Watts raises several challenges to the dismissal of his action. He first contends that the Parratt rule is inapplicable because the deprivation in this case occurred pursuant to an established state procedure rather than by random and unauthorized conduct. Watts secondly argues that even if Parratt applies, the available state remedies are inadequate to satisfy due process. Watts lastly asserts that regardless of whether the district court acted properly with regard to his section 1983 due process claim, it erred in dismissing his equal protection claim also brought under section 1983. At oral argument, the issue of abstention was raised and the parties were requested to submit supplemental briefs addressing the issue of the applicability of the principles of abstention to the instant case. For the following reasons, we affirm the dismissal of appellant's equitable claims and reverse the dismissal of his claims for monetary relief and attorney's fees.


The vast majority of Watts' practice as a physician has involved administering weight-loss programs through which he has prescribed federally-controlled drugs. Watts possesses an authorization number issued by the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), permitting him to prescribe controlled substances.

On October 21, 1985, the Division, a Tennessee administrative agency, issued a "Notice of Charges" against Watts, charging him with violating various provisions of Title 63, Chapter 6, of the Tennessee Revised Code, Secs. 63-6-101 et seq. The Division specifically alleged that Watts had violated sections 63-6-214(a)(1)-(4), (12)-(14), by prescribing or otherwise distributing controlled substances when they are not medically indicated, by prescribing or otherwise distributing controlled substances in a manner constituting gross negligence, and by prescribing or otherwise distributing controlled substances to persons addicted to the habit of taking such substances. The Division notified Watts that it would present these charges to the Board at a hearing on October 30, 1985, and would request the Board at that time to summarily suspend Watts' license to practice medicine pending further inquiry into whether his license should be permanently revoked. The Division also informed Watts that he was entitled, if he desired, to be represented by counsel at the initial hearing.

Watts appeared before the Board on October 30, 1985, without counsel. After hearing the charges, Watts signed a document by which he agreed to voluntarily surrender his DEA authorization number in lieu of having his license to practice medicine summarily suspended pending a subsequent hearing and final disposition. Accordingly, Watts retained his license to practice but he could not prescribe federally-controlled substances. Watts subsequently demanded the return of this "voluntary surrender," however, on the ground that he had been coerced into signing it.

On December 7, 1985, the Board issued an order concerning the October 30, 1985 hearing. The order clarified that since Watts had signed a "voluntary surrender" of his federal prescription privileges, the original motion for summary suspension of his license to practice medicine was "not taken up for ruling by the Board" at the hearing.

In response to Watts' communication of his desire to withdraw his "voluntary surrender" of his DEA authorization number, the Division filed a motion with the Board to summarily suspend Watts' license to practice medicine in Tennessee. Watts received notice on December 19, 1985, that the Division had filed the motion. A hearing on the motion to suspend Watts' license was set for January 14, 1986.

Before the summary suspension hearing was held, Watts filed the instant action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, naming as defendants the Division and individual members of the Board. Watts alleged violation of his due process and equal protection rights as protected by the fourteenth amendment and sought damages and attorney's fees. He also sought to enjoin the pending administrative proceedings, alleging that the Division and the Board intended to proceed in the same "vague" manner as they had at the hearing on October 30, 1985. Watts contended that the original notice issued by the Division was insufficient and that the manner in which the October 30 hearing was held failed to meet minimum requirements of due process and state administrative law.

The district court initially denied Watts' request for a temporary restraining order, but only upon receiving the parties' stipulation to maintain the status quo until the court could hold a hearing. In a subsequent order, dated February 28, 1986, the court denied Watts' request for a preliminary injunction. The court later amended that order in part in order to grant Watts' request to prohibit the defendants from enforcing the "voluntary surrender" which he had signed.

On April 8, 1986, the district court issued an order granting the defendants' motion to dismiss Watts' action. The court preliminarily observed that Watts had stated a cause of action under section 1983, since the conduct complained of was taken under color of state law and Watts had alleged the deprivation of a right, privilege, or immunity protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. The court then dismissed the Division from the law suit on the ground that it was immune from Watts' damages claims as a state agency. Watts had expressly agreed to the dismissal of the Division.

The remainder of Watts' action was dismissed pursuant to the rule developed in Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 68 L.Ed.2d 420 (1981), foreclosing procedural due process actions brought under section 1983 where the state provides adequate postdeprivation remedies. The court concluded that the remedies available to Watts under the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, Tenn.Code Ann. Secs. 4-5-101 et seq., were sufficient to satisfy due process. Accordingly, the court found that Watts' section 1983 action was improper and had to be dismissed. Watts pursued this timely appeal from that dismissal.

At oral argument before this court, the parties were requested to file supplemental briefs addressing the applicability of the abstention principles of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), as recently examined in Ohio Civil Rights Commission v. Dayton Christian Schools, Inc., 477 U.S. 619, 106 S.Ct. 2718, 91 L.Ed.2d 512 (1986). After reviewing the supplemental briefs, this court held the instant case in abeyance pending the Supreme Court's disposition in Monaghan v. Deakins, 798 F.2d 632 (3d Cir.1986),cert. granted, 479 U.S. 1063, 107 S.Ct. 946, 93 L.Ed.2d 996 (1987). Deakins was decided by the Court on January 12, 1988. Deakins v. Monaghan, --- U.S. ----, 108 S.Ct. 523, 98 L.Ed.2d 529 (1988). Supplemental briefs were submitted addressing the applicability of Deakins to the instant case.

This case presents two issues. The first issue involves the propriety of the district court's dismissal based on Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 68 L.Ed.2d 420 (1971). The second issue, which was not addressed by the district court but was thoroughly briefed by the parties, involves the applicability of the abstention principles to the instant case.


Watts asserts that the district court erred in dismissing his equal protection claims, since Parratt only applies in the procedural due process setting. Watts' assertion is well taken, since Parratt is not applicable to claims based on a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or federal laws other than the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment. See Hayes v. Vessey, 777 F.2d 1149, 1152 (6th Cir.1985), (quoting Wilson v. Beebe, 770 F.2d 578, 585 (6th Cir.1985) (en banc)). See also Augustine v. Doe, 740 F.2d 322, 327 (5th Cir.1984) (Parratt is irrelevant if the plaintiff alleges a violation of a substantive right protected by the Constitution). Since Parratt is not applicable to claims based on substantive rights protected by the Constitution, the district court erred in dismissing Watts' equal protection claim under Parratt.

As to Watts' other claims, the district court recognized that Watts seems to at least facially raise a sufficient section 1983 action. The actions taken by the Division and the Board were undisputably done under color of state law. Also, the conduct allegedly deprived Watts of constitutionally protected rights. The conduct jeopardized Watts'...

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