A Single DUI Results in Discipline for a Nurse

iStock_000017580334XSmall_edited-1   In Sulla v. Board of Registered Nursing (May 8, 2012, A132699) __Cal.4th __ , a nurse was convicted of a misdemeanor after he caused a single-car accident. He had been driving with a blood alcohol level in excess of the legal limit. Sulla was charged with unprofessional conduct. Specifically, that he used alcoholic beverages to an extent dangerous to himself or the public; or was convicted of a criminal offense involving alcohol. The superior court had reversed a disciplinary action taken by the Board of Registered Nursing on the ground that Sulla’s conduct and his resulting conviction were not “substantially related to the qualifications, functions or duties” of a nurse.

   In administrative proceedings, the ALJ had concluded that discipline was appropriate under Business and Professions Code section 2762, subdivision (b), which provides that it is unprofessional conduct for a nurse to “[u]se . . . alcoholic beverages, to an extent or in a manner dangerous or injurious to himself or herself, any other person, or the public or to the extent that such use impairs his or her ability to conduct with safety to the public the practice authorized by his or her license.” The ALJ also ruled that discipline was appropriate under section 2762, subdivision (c), which defines as unprofessional conduct the conviction “of a criminal offense involving the . . . consumption . . . or self-administration of alcohol.”

   In his written decision, the ALJ noted that section 2762, subdivisions (b) and (c), did not require a separate finding that the conduct or criminal conviction serving as the basis for the discipline be “substantially related to qualifications, functions or duties” of a registered nurse. The ALJ ordered Sulla’s license revoked, but stayed the revocation subject to three years of probation. The Board adopted the ALJ’s decision, and Sulla challenged the Board’s action by filing a petition for writ mandate in the superior court.

   In reversing the superior court’s grant of Sulla’s petition, the Court of Appeals held there is a nexus or logical relationship between the professional fitness of a registered nurse and the alcohol-related misconduct defined by section 2762, subdivisions (b) and (c). And, in light of this nexus, section 2762 comports with due process and supplies a basis for discipline even in the absence of a finding of professional unfitness in a particular case.