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Okorie v. Crawford

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

February 27, 2018




         Before the Court are Plaintiff Dr. Ikechukwu Okorie's Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order, Docket No. 9, and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Docket No. 27. After considering the motions, evidence, and applicable law, the Court denies Plaintiff's Motion and grants Defendants' Motion.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Dr. Okorie operates a primary care practice out of his Hattiesburg clinic, the Inland Family Practice Center (“Inland”). In 2007, the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure (“Board”) first issued Dr. Okorie a certificate to prescribe opioids and other pain medications to patients.

         On October 28, 2010, Board investigators and a Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) officer visited Inland in response to a pharmacist's complaint that Dr. Okorie excessively prescribed medications. They reviewed patient records and identified patients who were on a combination of opiates, benzodiazepines, and Carisprodol-known as the “Holy Trinity” in the black market drug trade. They discussed this concern with Dr. Okorie, who said he would implement changes to his practice to comply with the Board's regulations and state law.

         On October 13, 2011, Board investigators returned to Inland to conduct a follow-up visit. They again found similar drug combinations in patient records. Still, four days later, the Board renewed Dr. Okorie's pain certificate, which allowed him to continue prescribing opioids and other pain medications to patients.

         On June 30, 2012, Dr. Okorie's certification expired and he applied to renew it. In response, the Board denied his application on the ground that his training in chronic pain management was insufficient. Dr. Okorie resubmitted his application and appeared before the Board's Executive Committee on July 9, 2014. The next day, the Board sent a letter stating Dr. Okorie was unqualified to receive a pain certificate. The Board ordered him to immediately reduce his volume of chronic pain patients and refer them to certified physicians.

         Dr. Okorie completed additional training in pain management and again appeared before the Committee on September 3, 2014. Following the meeting, the Committee temporarily granted Dr. Okorie a pain certificate-subject to the approval of the entire Board. After the full Board reviewed the Committee's recommendations, the Board decided that it wanted additional information regarding Dr. Okorie's application and requested that he appear at the next Board meeting on November 13, 2014.

         Before the November 13 meeting took place, the Board executed an Administrative Inspection and Search Warrant at Inland to obtain patient records for review. On October 29, 2014, five Board investigators, a Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agent, a Hattiesburg High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area agent, and two DEA investigators searched Inland and interviewed staff. During the search, an investigator detained Dr. Okorie in his office.

         On June 10, 2015, the Board issued its initial Summons and Affidavit, containing 23 counts of alleged violations of Mississippi Code § 73-25-29, which establishes the grounds for the “nonissuance, suspension, revocation or restriction of a license” by the Board, and § 73-25-83, which permits the Board to deny a doctor's authorization to practice medicine if, after a hearing, he is found unqualified. On October 13, 2015, the Board filed an Amended Summons and Affidavit, reducing the charges to 16 counts of violations by Dr. Okorie.

         At a November 12, 2015 hearing, the Board found that Dr. Okorie was guilty of seven of the 16 alleged counts.[1] The Board ordered Dr. Okorie to (1) refrain from taking any new chronic pain and/or addiction medicine patients; (2) within six months, cease managing his existing chronic pain and/or addiction medicine patients; (3) within one year, complete continuing medical education courses in prescribing of controlled substances, proper record keeping, medical ethics, and boundaries; (4) every month for the next year, submit to the Board monthly Prescription Monitoring Program reports; and (5) pay the Board's costs up to $10, 000. Twelve days after the hearing, the Board filed and reported a state licensure action against Dr. Okorie with the National Practitioner Data Bank.

         Dr. Okorie appealed the Board's decision to the Chancery Court of Hinds County, Mississippi. First, he contended that his due process rights were violated when he was denied a fair and impartial hearing because of the Board's “pre-existing bias and prejudice.” Docket No. 27-2 at 4. Second, he argued that the Board's decision was arbitrary and capricious, and against the substantial weight of the evidence. The chancery court rejected each of Dr. Okorie's arguments and affirmed the Board's decision on December 6, 2016. Docket No. 32-2. Dr. Okorie failed to timely appeal this decision to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and on August 16, 2017, the chancery court denied Dr. Okorie's motion to extend the time for filing a notice of appeal.

         He then filed this action on July 7, 2017. The Complaint names as defendants Board investigators Jonathon Dalton and Leslie Ross, and the Board members who conducted his November 12, 2015 hearing.[2] Defendants are sued only in their individual capacities.

         Dr. Okorie alleges that Defendants (1) violated his Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights by denying him sufficient notice and a fair opportunity to be heard; (2) violated his substantive due process rights by depriving him of his liberty interest in pursuing his occupation; and (3) falsely arrested him without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Dr. Okorie also asserts state law claims of false imprisonment and defamation. He requests monetary damages, including lost future profits, in an amount in excess of $12.5 million, in addition to costs, expenses, and attorneys' fees.

         On August 14, 2017, Dr. Okorie filed this Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order.[3] He seeks equitable relief in the form of removing the sanctions imposed by the Board's November 12, 2015 order, including reinstating his pain management certification. A month later, Defendants moved to dismiss all counts-except Dr. Okorie's false arrest claim against the Board investigators.

         II. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

         Because Defendants have answered the Complaint, the present motion is considered a motion for judgment on the pleadings ...

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