U.S. Supreme Court: Nurse can sue state board
By HENRY FREDERICK
Legal Affairs Writer
Last update: 03 June 2004
DAYTONA BEACH -- A brain-injured South Daytona woman will have her day in court.
Elizabeth Feaster, 42, won a major victory when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that she should be allowed to sue the Florida Board of Nursing for requiring her to participate in a program designed for nurse substance abusers.
Her attorney said Feaster, who graduated from the registered nurse degree program at Daytona Beach Community College four years ago, was stigmatized within the nursing profession by being lumped in with nurses who have drug and alcohol problems.
"We believe a jury of regular people will think it's outrageous the way the board treated her," said her attorney, Jimmy Charles of Osceola County.
Feaster had filed suit in Duval County circuit court in July 2001 against the Florida Department of Health charging it violated her rights under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The board was based in Duval County at that time.
While a student in the DBCC nursing program, Feaster required special accommodations under the Disabilities Act because she suffered a brain injury in 1998 that interfered with her ability to concentrate on academic examinations.
Feaster was given extra time and a private setting for testing at DBCC, as well as a note taker during classroom lectures, Charles said.
Despite her disability, she graduated from the nursing program with honors, he said.
But when Feaster applied to the state Board of Nursing for licensure, she was told she would have to participate in the Intervention Program for Nurses -- a program for "impaired practitioners" -- before she would be allowed to take the nursing board exam, because of her disability.
The program is described on the state Department of Health Web site as "a program that provides close monitoring of nurses who are unsafe to practice due to impairment as a result of misuse or abuse of alcohol or drugs, or both, or due to a mental of physical condition which could affect the licensee's ability to practice with skill and safety."
Following nearly three years of litigation, Feaster now has won the right to challenge that placement.
"I was extremely thrilled," she said Wednesday of last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision. "Justice has been served. I look forward to my day in court."
The Florida Attorney General defended the state nursing board and opposed Feaster's lawsuit, claiming the state was immune to such a suit. The circuit court agreed with the position of the Attorney General and dismissed Feaster's lawsuit, prompting a series of appeals.
All that changed last week when the nation's highest court ruled the state's immunity did not apply in cases like this.
Athough the Supreme Court didn't hear arguments on Feaster's case, it ruled in her favor after hearing arguments on a case that preceded hers and involved similar facts, Charles said.
Feaster "will now have her opportunity to be heard in the courts for enforcement of her rights under Title II of the ADA," Charles said.
"All we wanted from the beginning was for Elizabeth to have her day in court."