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Ricks v. Mississippi State Department of Health

August 13, 1998

JUANITA RICKS
v.
MISSISSIPPI STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Waller, Justice

Ricks v. Mississippi State Department of Health, 95-CT-00908-SCT, __ So. 2d __

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 08/02/95

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. EDWARD C. PRISOCK

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: NESHOBA COUNTY CHANCERY COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - STATE BOARDS AND AGENCIES

(OTHER THAN WORKERS' COMPENSATION)

DISPOSITION REVERSED AND RENDERED - 8/13/98

MOTION FOR REHEARING FILED:

MANDATE ISSUED:

EN BANC.

Introduction

¶1. This matter is before the Court sitting en banc on the petition for writ of certiorari filed by the Mississippi Department of Health, requesting review of the Court of Appeals' decision which reversed and rendered the decision of the Chancery Court of Neshoba County affirming the Mississippi Department of Health's determination that Juanita Ricks' name should be placed on the Nurse's Aide Abuse Registry. The issues raised for review are whether or not the Court of Appeals applied the proper standard of review, and whether or not the Court of Appeals can substitute its own definition of "neglect" for that used by the administering agency, the Mississippi State Department of Health. We conclude that the Court of Appeals did not apply the correct standard of review, and erred in not according deference to the definition of the statute used by the agency chosen to administer it, since the agency's interpretation of the statute was in accordance with the plain meaning thereof.

Statement of the Case

¶2. The State Department of Health conducted a hearing pursuant to the Mississippi Vulnerable Adults Act, Miss. Code Ann. § 43-47-3 et seq. (1993), and determined that Juanita Ricks' name should be placed on the Nurse's Aide Abuse Registry due to the fact that Ricks left Ms. Woodward, an eighty-three year old resident of a nursing home, unrestrained and unattended on a portable toilet room commode, which resulted in a fall and serious injuries to Ms. Woodward. Ricks appealed to the Chancery Court of Neshoba County, which affirmed the State Department of Health. Ricks then appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed and rendered based on its determination that although the statutory definition of negligence does not include the word "willful," willfulness is implied, i.e., negligence must be willful. This inference is in

contravention to the interpretation given to the statute by the administering agency, the State Department of Health, and in contravention to the plain meaning on the face of the statute. As the Department of Health notes, this issue is specifically addressed in the Federal Register which states in pertinent part: *fn1 Comment:

Several commentators thought the proposed definition of "neglect" was too broad and ambiguous. They contend it is necessary to narrow the definition in order not to inundate the system with complaints. Some commentators requested that the terms "willful" and "intent" be inserted into the definition to limit the scope of actions that could be considered neglect.

Response:

In order to promote consistency in the survey process, there needs to be a common definition of neglect for a variety of applications. We have, therefore adopted the concept of the definition used in the Older Americans Act, as we explain below. That definition does not incorporate the terms "willful" or "intent." While an act of neglect can be intentional, neglect can also occur unintentionally. However, we are specifying at ยง 488.335(e) that a State must not make a finding that an individual has neglected a resident if the individual demonstrates that such neglect was caused by factors beyond his or her control. If the inattentiveness is due to factors within that persons control, intentional or unintentional, he or she can be considered to have neglected the resident(s). Therefore, while willfulness and intent ...


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