DOVER, Del. (Legal Newsline) - The Delaware Supreme Court says a lower court was right to reverse a state board's decision to suspend a nurse's licenses.

The Court said in its March 30 ruling that appellant Delaware Board of Nursing's suspension of appellee Michele Gillespie's licenses for two years was in error.

Gillespie, a licensed registered nurse and family nurse practitioner, was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of a child in December 2009.

The State later filed a complaint with the nursing 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.

However, all of the children involved were Gillespie's grandchildren.

The nursing board decided to suspend her licenses based on a finding that she violated a section of Delaware Code and a board rule by failing to report the sexual abuse.

The Kent County Superior Court reversed the board's decision, holding that the board misinterpreted a section of the code, wrongly imposing the mandatory reporting requirement on nurses for information learned outside of their employment.

Gillespie learned of the abuse in her role as a grandmother, not as a nurse, the superior court noted. Therefore, her failure to report could not be grounds for finding unprofessional conduct, it said.

The board appealed, arguing that it did not err and that its decision was supported by "substantial evidence."

The state's high court, in its 11-page ruling, sided with the superior court.

"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 abuse in the course of their work," Justice Randy J. Holland wrote for the Court.

"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."

The Court noted that Gillespie had no prior disciplinary history and the board did not articulate any basis for her sanctioning other than she failed to report the abuse to the state's Division of Family Services.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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