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The Board appealed from a Superior Court decision reversing the Board's decision to suspend the nursing licenses of appellee. The Board suspended appellee's licenses for two years based upon a finding that she failed to report child sexual abuse as required by state statute. The Board contended that it did not err in finding that appellee committed the violations at issue and the Board submitted that its decision finding a violation of the applicable provisions was supported by substantial evidence. Appellee argued that the Board's appeal was barred by a conflict of interest. The court concluded that the Board's contentions were without merit. Therefore, the judgment of the Superior Court must be affirmed and the court need not reach the conflict of interest issue.Receive FREE Daily Opinion Summaries by Email
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE
DELAWARE BOARD OF
MICHELE BICE GILLESPIE,
No. 661, 2011
Court Below – Superior Court
of the State of Delaware,
in and for Kent County
C.A. No. K10A-06-007
Submitted: March 21, 2012
Decided: March 30, 2012
Before STEELE, Chief Justice, HOLLAND and RIDGELY, Justices.
Upon appeal from the Superior Court. AFFIRMED.
Barbara J. Gadbois, Esquire, Department of Justice, Wilmington,
Delaware, for appellant.
Michael W. Arrington, Esquire, Parkowski, Guerke & Swayze, P.A.,
Wilmington, Delaware, for appellee.
The appellant, Delaware Board of Nursing (the “Board”), appeals
from a Superior Court decision reversing the Board’s decision to suspend the
nursing licenses of the appellee, Michele Gillespie (“Gillespie”). The Board
suspended Gillespie’s licenses for two years based on a finding that
Gillespie violated title 24, section 1922(a)(8) of the Delaware Code and
Board Rule 10.4.1 by failing to report child sexual abuse as required by title
16, section 903 of the Delaware Code.1 The Superior Court held that the
Board erred as a matter of law in interpreting section 903 to impose the
mandatory reporting requirement on nurses for information learned outside
of their employment.
The Board raises two arguments on appeal. First, the Board contends
that it did not err in finding that Gillespie committed the above-referenced
violations by failing to report child sexual abuse as required by title 16,
section 903 of the Delaware Code. Second, the Board submits that its
decision finding a violation of the applicable provisions was supported by
substantial evidence. Gillespie argues that the Board’s appeal is barred by a
conflict of interest.
At the time Gillespie’s case was pending before the Board, section 903 imposed a
mandatory reporting requirement on “[a]ny physician, and any other person in the healing
arts including any person licensed to render services in medicine, osteopathy, dentistry,
any intern, resident, nurse, school employee, social worker, psychologist, medical
examiner or any other person . . . .” Del. Code Ann. tit. 16, § 903 (2003).
We have concluded that the Board’s contentions are without merit.
Therefore, the judgment of the Superior Court must be affirmed.
Accordingly, we need not reach the conflict of interest issue raised by
Facts and Procedural History2
Gillespie is a licensed registered nurse and family nurse practitioner.
In December 2009, Gillespie was arrested and charged by the State with
Endangering the Welfare of a Child in violation of title 11, section 1102 of
the Delaware Code.
Three months later, the State filed a Complaint with
the Board alleging that Gillespie was guilty of unprofessional conduct for
failing to report “several incidents of sexual abuse inflicted by two young
boys on three younger children” to the children’s parents or any other
authority enumerated in title 16, section 903 of the Delaware Code. All of
the children involved were Gillespie’s grandchildren.
A Panel of the Board held an evidentiary hearing to determine
whether Gillespie had violated title 24, section 1922(a)(8) and Board Rule
10.4.1 relating to the report of child abuse. The parties stipulated to the facts
alleged in six paragraphs of the complaint. Thus, Gillespie admitted that she
Unless otherwise noted, the relevant facts are taken from the Superior Court opinion.
Gillespie v. Delaware Bd. of Nursing, 2011 WL 6034789 (Del. Super. Ct. Nov. 17,
was a nurse, that she was aware of incidents of sexual abuse among her
grandchildren, and that she did not notify any authority enumerated in
The Panel heard brief testimony from Gillespie and Gillespie’s exdaughter-in law. Gillespie testified that her other daughter-in-law told her
about the sexual abuse. Her daughter-in-law had heard about the abuse, in
turn, from her own son. Gillespie testified that she immediately called
Nicole Fonseca, her ex-daughter-in-law and the mother of the other children
involved. Gillespie testified that she informed Fonseca of the reported abuse
and advised her to take the children to A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital for
examination. Fonseca testified that Gillespie never told her to go to the
hospital, but merely said “the kids need counseling.” It was undisputed that
all information regarding the abuse came to Gillespie through third-hand
recitations, and that the parents of all the children involved—as abuser or
The Panel recommended a two-year suspension of Gillespie’s two
nursing licenses and continuing education on the importance of reporting
sexual abuse. The Board adopted the recommendation of the Panel. On
appeal, the Superior Court reversed, holding that the Board erred by
applying section 903 to information learned by a nurse outside the scope of
Because there was no violation of section 903, the
Superior Court also found that the Board’s decision was not supported by
substantial evidence. This appeal followed.
Standard of Review
We review a decision of the Board for errors of law and determine
whether substantial evidence exists to support the Board’s findings of fact
and conclusions of law.3 “Substantial evidence equates to ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.’”4 We will not weigh the evidence, determine questions of
credibility, or make our own factual findings.5 Errors of law are reviewed de
novo.6 Absent an error of law, the standard of review for a Board’s decision
is abuse of discretion.7
At the time Gillespie’s case was pending before the Board, title 16,
section 903 of the Delaware Code stated:
Any physician, and any other person in the healing arts
including any person licensed to render services in medicine,
osteopathy, dentistry, any intern, resident, nurse, school
employee, social worker, psychologist, medical examiner or
Person-Gaines v. Pepco Holdings, Inc., 981 A.2d 1159, 1161 (Del. 2009) (citing
Stanley v. Kraft Foods, Inc., 2008 WL 2410212, at *2 (Del. Super. Ct. Mar. 24, 2008)).
Id. (quoting Olney v. Cooch, 425 A.2d 610, 614 (Del. 1981)).
Id. (citing Johnson v. Chrysler Corp., 213 A.2d 64, 66-67 (Del. 1965)).
Id. (citing Stanley v. Kraft Foods, Inc., 2008 WL 2410212, at *2).
any other person who knows or in good faith suspects child
abuse or neglect shall make a report in accordance with § 904
of this title. In addition to and not in lieu of reporting to the
Division of Family Services, any such person may also give
oral or written notification of said knowledge or suspicion to
any police officer who is in the presence of such person for the
purpose of rendering assistance to the child in question or
investigating the cause of the child’s injuries or condition.8
This provision was amended in 2010, and now expressly provides that the
duty to report applies to all persons.9
Title 24, section 1922(a)(8) of the Delaware Code provides that the
Board may impose sanctions when it finds a licensee guilty of any offense
described therein, including “unprofessional conduct as shall be determined
by the Board, or the willful neglect of a patient[.]”10 Board Rule 10.4.1
further provides that “[n]urses whose behavior fails to conform to legal
standards and accepted standards of the nursing profession and who thus
may adversely affect the health and welfare of the public may be found
guilty of unprofessional conduct.”11
Superior Court Decision
Section 903, as it existed in 2009, was expressly limited to those “in
the healing arts including any person licensed to render services in
Del. Code Ann. tit. 16, § 903 (2003).
77 Del. Laws ch. 320, § 1 (2010).
Del. Code Ann. tit. 24, § 1922(a)(8) (2005).
24 Del. Admin. Code § 1900-10.4.1.
medicine.” The Superior Court determined that the statute was ambiguous
as to whether the covered persons “were required to report incidents of
abuse about which they acquire knowledge outside the scope of their
employment.”12 Thus, the Superior Court considered section 903 in light of
section 908,13 and determined that the distinguishing feature of section 903’s
mandatory reporting requirement was its applicability to a narrow set of
persons—medical service providers. Because Gillespie learned of the abuse
in her role as a grandmother, and not as a nurse, the Superior Court found
that her failure to report could not be grounds for finding unprofessional
The Board contends that the statute was not ambiguous, and that it
correctly applied the literal meaning of the statute in determining that
Gillespie engaged in unprofessional conduct. The Board also argues that,
under the plain terms of the statute, the mandatory reporting duty was
imposed on those in the medical profession and “any other person who
Gillespie v. Delaware Bd. of Nursing, 2011 WL 6034789, at *3.
Section 908 provides immunity from liability to “[a]nyone participating in good faith
in the making of a report or notifying police officers” of child abuse. Del. Code Ann. tit.
16, § 908 (2003).
The Superior Court also noted that its interpretation was consistent with the
interpretation of comparable statutes in some other jurisdictions. Gillespie v. Delaware
Bd. of Nursing, 2011 WL 6034789, at *4.
knows or in good faith suspects child abuse or neglect.”15
interpretation, Gillespie had a duty to report irrespective of her nursing
Statute Properly Construed
“The goal of statutory construction is to determine and give effect to
legislative intent.”16 Where a statute is ambiguous, it should be interpreted
“in a way that will promote its apparent purpose and harmonize it” with the
statutory scheme.17 A statute is ambiguous if “it is reasonably susceptible of
different conclusions or interpretations” or “if a literal reading of the statute
would lead to an unreasonable or absurd result not contemplated by the
Principles of statutory interpretation support the Superior Court’s
interpretation here. The Superior Court did not err in finding the statute
ambiguous as to whether the reporting duty applied only to information
obtained in a person’s role as a medical service provider. Given the narrow
class of professionals articulated in the statute, it is reasonable to infer that
the legislature intended to target those persons positioned to learn of child
Del. Code Ann. tit. 16, § 903 (2003).
LeVan v. Independence Mall, Inc., 940 A.2d 929, 932 (Del. 2007) (quoting Eliason v.
Englehart, 733 A.2d 944, 946 (Del. 1999)).
Id. at 933 (quoting Eliason v. Englehart, 733 A.2d at 946).
Id. (quoting Newtowne Vill. Serv. Corp. v. Newtowne Rd. Dev. Co., 772 A.2d 172, 175
abuse in the course of their work. The Superior Court had previously
interpreted section 903 as applicable to a limited set of persons who obtain
information in the course of their employment, and thus distinguished
section 903 from section 908—which provides immunity to all persons
“participating” in reports of child abuse.19
Likewise, principles of statutory constructions instruct that the general
phrase “and any other person” following the list of specifically enumerated
professionals should be interpreted in light of that specific list. Noscitur a
sociis provides that “words grouped in a list should be given related
Likewise, the well-established principle ejusdem generis
instructs that, “where general language follows an enumeration of persons or
things, by words of a particular and specific meaning, such general words
are not to be construed in their widest extent, but are to be held as applying
See Hedrick v. Quest Diagnostics Clinical Labs., Inc., 807 A.2d 584, 593 (Del. Super.
Ct. 2002) (“[I]mmunity is not granted to just those statutorily-listed persons in § 903 but
to anyone participating in the making of a report to the Division. The fact that the
General Assembly, in enacting § 908, made such a choice in granting immunity is
another indication of the intent to make that grant broad. The difference between § 903
and § 908 cannot be viewed as an oversight. The legislature is presumed to have used
these different provisions for different reasons and intended a distinction.”) (internal
Dole v. United Steelworkers of America, 494 U.S. 26, 36 (1990). See also Gustafson v.
Alloyd Co., 513 U.S. 561, 575 (1995).
only to persons or things of the same general kind or class as those
Here, it is reasonable to interpret the statutory phrase “or any other
person” in light of the preceding, specific enumeration of persons who
would likely learn of child abuse in the scope of their duties in schools,
hospitals, and counseling services. Thus, the statute did not plainly cover
any person who might learn of sexual abuse in any context. Moreover, this
rule of construction supports the Superior Court’s determination that the
statute should not apply to those enumerated persons who learn of the abuse
exclusively in a family context. Accordingly, we hold that the Superior
Court properly determined that the Board of Nursing erred in its
interpretation of title 16, section 903 for purposes of applying title 24,
section 1992(A)(8) and Board Rule 10.4.1.
No Substantial Evidence
The Superior Court did not err in concluding that, absent a violation
of section 903, there was no substantial evidence to support the Board’s
decision. Gillespie had no prior disciplinary history, and the Board did not
articulate any basis for sanctioning Gillespie other than the fact that she
failed to report the abuse to DFS. The Superior Court correctly concluded
Aspen Advisors LLC v. United Artists Theatre Co., 861 A.2d 1251, 1265 (Del. 2004)
(quoting Petition of State, 708 A.2d 983, 988 (Del. 1998)).
that “[a]lthough unprofessional conduct does not require the violation of a
statute, the Board’s decision was based upon a finding that Appellant did not
satisfy her statutory duty.”22
The judgment of the Superior Court is affirmed.
Gillespie v. Delaware Bd. of Nursing, 2011 WL 6034789, at *4.