Nurses - Professional misconduct/conduct unbecoming - Investigations - Disciplinary proceedings - Public interest - Adjournment of hearing; Judicial review - Disclosure of records - Evidence - Natural justice - Procedural requirements and fairness

Pittman v. Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Assn. (Discipline Committee)

The appellant sought to have a decision of the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses' Association reversed on the basis that its failure to grant the appellant an adjournment constituted a breach of procedural fairness and a denial of natural justice. The Court allowed the appeal, noting that the public protection aspect of a speedy hearing was not a factor as the appellant was no longer working as a registered nurse, and that the serious consequences of the hearing warranted the appellant the right to be heard.

[2013] S.J. No. 242

2013 SKQB 132

Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench

R.C. Mills J.

April 10, 2013

The appellant, Gregory Pittman, appealed a decision of the Discipline Committee of the Saskatchewan Registered Nurses’ Association (the “Discipline Committee”) which found him guilty of professional misconduct pursuant to s. 26 of The Registered Nurses Act. The appellant argued that the Discipline Committee’s failure to allow him an adjournment of the discipline hearing resulted in a breach of duty of procedural fairness owed to him and a denial of natural justice.

The appellant was a registered nurse who was terminated from his position at Royal University Hospital following allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct towards coworkers. The SRNA was advised of the dismissal on May 31, 2010 and an official investigation was launched after a formal complaint was received by the Hospital. The appellant did not provide a response initially due to the possibility of concurrent criminal charges being laid; however, a response was eventually provided on November 29, 2010 in which he denied the allegations generally. The matter was referred to the Discipline Committee in January 2011, and correspondence then began between the SNRA and the appellant to set a mutually convenient hearing date.

The appellant indicated that he wished to have the professional misconduct hearing adjourned indefinitely to await the outcome of the arbitration hearing on his dismissal, which the SNRA refused to do. The appellant also sought full disclosure from the SNRA of the allegations and evidence to be utilized at the hearing.

After a lengthy exchange of correspondence, the SNRA advised the appellant that the hearing was scheduled to proceed on May 30, 2011. The SNRA was under the impression that the information and evidence the appellant would be facing at their hearing had been previously provided to him through the arbitration and employment insurance processes. The appellant did not receive confirmation until May 2 and 5, 2011 from the SNRA that the investigative report in its entirety would form the basis of the charges against him. The appellant was eventually able to obtain counsel, but could not provide a retainer to cover counsel’s time at the hearing. The hearing went ahead on May 30, 2011 with counsel for the appellant sending a letter asking the matter be adjourned and alleging a denial of natural justice.

Although the Court noted that having a discipline process proceed in a timely and orderly fashion is a legitimate concern for a professional association, part of that concern arises from the association’s duty to protect the public. In this instance, as the appellant was no longer working as a registered nurse, adjourning the matter would have no impact on the public interest. Instead, the SNRA’s reasons for refusing the adjournment were based on the belief that the appellant was intentionally delaying the matter.

Given the serious consequences of the hearing for the appellant, the Court held that the SNRA did not properly weigh the interests of justice and fairness to the appellant before deciding to proceed with the hearing despite knowing in advance that the appellant would be unable to retain counsel or appearing on his own behalf. The finding of professional misconduct was therefore quashed and a new hearing was directed before a differently composed Disciplinary Committee.