No Constitutional Right To Paramedic Status

Bryan Braswell is a firefighter employed by the Shoreline, Washington Fire Department. Braswell became certified as a paramedic in 2003. Under Washington law, paramedic certificates are valid for three years, after which recertification is necessary. Paramedics employed by Shoreline work under the medical license of Dr. Gary Somers, a Program Medical Director for King County Emergency Medical Services, who is in charge of the Shoreline area.

On November 30, 2005, Braswell and his paramedic partner were dispatched to the residence of Tommy Davis, who had called emergency services complaining of chest pain. As part of the examination, Braswell asked whether Davis had used any recreational drugs that evening. Davis became agitated. Braswell administered a lung exam and instructed Davis to breathe deeply. However, Davis either would not or could not comply. Braswell bent down and spoke directly into Davis’ face, instructing him repeatedly to breathe deeply. After several requests, Davis became angry and asked Braswell what his problem was. Braswell repeated his instructions and asked Davis to give him “a little less attitude.”

The exchange between Braswell and Davis led to a verbal altercation. Davis stood up and threw a file folder on a desk so forcefully that papers and objects flew off the desk. Davis told the paramedics to leave. Braswell asked Davis to fill out a release form stating that he did not consent to treatment. Davis replied, using profanities, that he would not sign the form. In the course of the altercation, Braswell asked whether he should call the police, and Davis responded that he would give Braswell a reason to throw him in jail. Feeling physically threatened and suspecting that Davis, who was rummaging through desk drawers, might be looking for a weapon, Braswell and his partner left without treating Davis or obtaining a release form.

The next day, Braswell met with his fire department supervisors and two union representatives to discuss the incident. Several days later, Braswell met with the chief of the fire department, the deputy chief, and Dr. Somers. Dr. Somers, after having reviewed written statements from witnesses, stated that Braswell had an anger management problem, that he failed to identify medically significant symptoms in Davis, and that he abandoned Davis. Dr. Somers told Braswell that Braswell was no longer authorized to practice paramedicine under Dr. Somers’ medical license.

When Shoreline reassigned Braswell from a paramedic position back to a firefighter position, Braswell sued, contending he had a property right to his job as a paramedic. The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, and upheld Shoreline’s actions.

The Court found that “Braswell fails to demonstrate that Washington law creates a property interest in the statutorily required supervision by Dr. Somers. Braswell points to no Washington statute or regulation that limits a medical director’s discretion to revoke a paramedic’s permission to practice under his or her license. Without such a limit on a medical director’s authority to revoke a paramedic’s permission to practice, Braswell could not have a legitimate claim of entitlement to that permission.”

Braswell v. Shoreline Fire Dept., 2010 WL 3584032 (9th Cir. 2010).

This article appears in the December 2010 issue