On August 25, 2021, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Passaic County case of State v. Yvonne Jeanotte-Rodriguez, et al. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:21-20 concerned the specific activities that a medical assistant can legally perform.
Presiding Judge Ostrer wrote for the panel in relevant part: In these three appeals, consolidated for our opinion, the State contends the trial court wrongly dismissed (without prejudice) a six-count indictment against Lisa Ferraro, M.D., Yvonne Jeannotte-Rodriguez, and Marta Galvan. During the relevant time period, Rodriguez served as a medical assistant in Dr. Ferraro’s medical office, and Galvan was the office manager and worked on billing. The State alleged Rodriguez practiced medicine without a license; Dr. Ferraro and Rodriguez fraudulently billed for Rodriguez’s services; and Galvan joined Rodriguez and Dr. Ferraro in conspiring to commit this fraud. The State asserts it presented sufficient evidence to survive dismissal and urges us to reinstate the indictment in full. Dr. Ferraro and Galvan cross-appeal, contending the court should have dismissed the indictment with prejudice.
Even assuming that certain functions unquestionably fall outside the scope of a medical assistant’s allowable activities, such as diagnosing illness or prescribing medication – and there was some evidence that Rodriguez evaluated patients and filled out scrips – the grand jury was led to believe that Rodriguez encroached on the practice of medicine by doing much more: interviewing patients, eliciting their histories and complaints, taking vital signs, providing information to patients, and writing in charts.
It is ‘no answer to say that the evidence before the grand jury was sufficient to support an indictment on some other theory. We have no confidence that the grand jury would have indicted Rodriguez under N.J.S.A. 2C:21-20(a) – “engaging in that practice” – had it been properly instructed. To sustain the indictment nonetheless would rob the grand jury of its “screening function.” In sum, the absence of clear and adequate instructions tainted the grand jury’s decision to indict Rodriguez for engaging in the practice of medicine by an unlicensed person under N.J.S.A. 2C:21-20(a).
There is a double-edged sword involved with making a motion to dismiss an indictment. A potential benefit is that a successful motion can lead to the indictable charges being dismissed and never re-instated. The potential downside is that it alerts the prosecution to issues that it needs to address in order to sustain a conviction.