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Vt. Supreme Court Holds Complainant Has No Right to Psychologist’s Response to Disciplinary Complaint Unless Disciplinary Charges Are Filed

The Vermont Supreme Court recently held that a prisoner who filed a disciplinary complaint against a prison psychologist alleging the psychologist falsified a risk assessment extending his incarceration by 14 years was not entitled to the documents filed by the psychologist in defense of the disciplinary complaint unless and until disciplinary charges are filed.

Vermont state prisoner Kirk Wool filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Regulation (OPR) alleging a psychologist falsified certain risk assessment scores, forcing him to “max out” his sentence. He requested the records the psychologist filed to defend against the complaint. The OPR replied it was prohibited from providing them by statute. Wool filed a petition for mandamus relief in superior court. The court dismissed the petition, holding Wool had no standing and had failed to state a claim.

On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court first held that the case was not rendered moot when the OPR closed the case without disciplinary charges while the appeal was pending. It then noted that the Legislature established a statutory scheme for the OPR and the Board of Psychological Examiners to license, regulate, investigate, and discipline psychologists, 3 V.S.A. §§ 121-37; 26 V.S.A. §§ 3001-18.

The court held that Wool did have standing because he claimed a violation of his due process rights as a complainant, thus showing an allegation of an injury-in-fact, an inability to counter the psychologist’s defense. However, his claim fails because the statutory scheme does not give the complainant party status or a right to the requested records in disciplinary proceedings.

The statute requires the release of the date and nature of the complaint, excluding the name of the licensee and “a summary of the completed investigation” for all complaints. If disciplinary charges, stipulations, or disciplinary action results, additional information must be released. However, the statute specifically prohibits OPR from releasing any other information regarding the disciplinary complaint and proceedings, 3 U.SA. § 131(d). Thus, Wool had 110 due process right to the records and the dismissal of the petition was affirmed. See: Wool v. Office of Professional Regulation, 2020 VT 44, No. 2019-281.

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Related legal case

Wool v. Office of Professional Regulation