The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal from a decision of the Respondent Association’s Appeals Committee which had overturned the Appellant’s acquittal on charges of professional misconduct and substituted a verdict of guilty on some charges. The Court held that the Appeals Committee had misstated and misapplied the reasonableness standard in reviewing the Conduct Committee’s decision.

Administrative law – Nurses – Disciplinary proceedings – Judicial review – Appeals – Standard of review – Reasonableness simpliciter

Nelson v. Alberta Assn. of Registered Nurses, [2005] A.J. No. 821, Alberta Court of Appeal, June 29, 2005, Hunt, Berger and Costigan JJ.A.

The Appellant was a Registered Nurse who, after a ten-day hearing, was acquitted by the Respondent Association’s Professional Conduct Committee of several charges. The decision of the Conduct Committee was appealed. The Appeals Committee allowed the appeal, in part, finding the Appellant guilty of some of the charges. The Appellant, in this case, appealed the decision of the Appeals Committee.

It was agreed by the parties that the functional and pragmatic analysis should be applied to determine the correct standard of review of the Conduct Committee’s decision and that the application of that analysis in this case led to the conclusion that the correct standard of review was reasonableness. The Court agreed.

The central issue was whether the Appeals Committee correctly articulated and applied the reasonableness standard. The Appeals Committee had suggested that the reasonableness standard encompasses differing levels of deference and that less deference was appropriate where no reasons or brief reasons were given by the Conduct Committee. The Appeals Committee had said that the Conduct Committee was entitled to more deference when assessing credibility and less deference on the issue of whether conduct warranted a finding of professional misconduct or unskilled practice. When it considered the findings of the Conduct Committee on each charge, the Appeals Committee disturbed some findings of fact by reweighing and reassessing the evidence and overturned some findings by arriving at different interpretations of nursing practice standards.

The Court held that the Appeals Committee had misstated the standard of reasonableness and misapplied it in others. The Conduct Committee’s conclusions will be reasonable if there is some basis for them in evidence. The Appeals Committee’s view of the evidence is not relevant to that determination. Also, the reasonableness standard does not float along a spectrum. Accordingly, the Appeals Committee erred when it applied more or less deference to the Conduct Committee’s decision depending on the issue being considered.

The Appeals Committee also erred in re-weighing and re-assessing the evidence, which was properly a task for the Conduct Committee. The Appeals Committee should also not have substituted its interpretation of nursing practice standards for the interpretation applied by the Conduct Committee, unless the Conduct Committee’s interpretation was untenable.

The Appeals Committee’s decision was set aside with the direction that the appeal be heard de novo by a new panel of the Appeals Committee, with further directions to properly apply the reasonableness standard in its consideration of the Conduct Committee’s decision.

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