Ex-Hamilton County addiction doctor loses suit against DEA, Carmel

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Law enforcement officials who unsuccessfully brought charges against a Hamilton County addiction treatment doctor accused of over-prescribing opiates have been cleared in a civil lawsuit the doctor filed against them.

Judge Richard Young ruled in favor of agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency, the city of Carmel and other defendants who had been involved in the investigation and criminal charges brought against Dr. Larry Ley and others. Young’s order, issued Friday, granted summary judgment to parties whom Ley claimed were responsible for false arrest, malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy, municipal liability and other causes for civil liability.

Ley and his colleagues and associates who operated Living Life Clean LLC and Drug Opiate Recovery Network Inc. locations in Carmel, Noblesville, Muncie, Kokomo and Centerville brought the suit. They “allege law enforcement falsely arrested and maliciously prosecuted them, resulting in the destruction of their careers and reputations,” Young wrote in his order.

Ley is not currently licensed to practice in Indiana, according to records from the Indiana Medical Licensing Board.

But Young ruled against the doctors, finding law enforcement had probable cause to issue warrants that led to the arrest of Ley and others in July 2014. They were accused of conspiracy to commit dealing in a controlled substance and corrupt business influence.

"The court ruled that arrests based upon probable cause, such as those involved in these cases, shields officers from liability absent some showing of officer misrepresentation that would vitiate the probable cause determination," said Douglas Haney, corporation counsel for the city of Carmel, in a written statement. "The officers involved performed their duties honorably and lawfully, as is borne out by the court’s summary judgment rulings in these matters."

The investigation was triggered after the death of one of Ley’s patients, when a deputy Madison County coroner called Carmel police and drug investigators, sharing the family’s concerns about Ley’s treatment. DEA investigators focused on complaints about the practice, including the lack of medical care for patients and the ease of obtaining prescriptions for the controlled substance known as suboxone.

Undercover agents posing as patients were prescribed suboxone in exchange for $300 without a physical exam after Ley talked with them about the substance, according to the record. Evidence said the consultations sometimes took place in group settings.

But Ley was found not guilty in August 2016 after a bench trial before Hamilton Superior Judge Steve Nation. Prosecutions of other physicians who worked with Ley’s practices subsequently were dismissed, Young wrote.

The failed prosecutions led to the civil complaint from Ley and his colleagues. Their suit named DEA diversion investigator Gary Whisenand and the DEA, as well as Carmel officer Aaron Dietz and the city of Carmel. But Young concluded the law enforcement defendants had probable cause and are entitled to qualified immunity.

“The affidavit more than establishes probable cause,” Young wrote. “It is undisputed that one of Dr. Ley’s patients died, and the wife of the deceased expressed concerns about Dr. Ley’s treatments. Other addiction doctors expressed concerns too: one said that Dr. Ley was prescribing suboxone ‘for pain’ because the off-label use allowed him to skirt the one-hundred patient limit … and another expressed concern that the practice was set up for cash, not for medical treatment.”

Young turned aside the plaintiffs’ claims that they had provided good medical care and the prescriptions were issued with a legitimate medical purpose, noting such arguments go to the plaintiffs’ defense rather than the establishment of probable cause.

Likewise, Ley and the other plaintiffs failed to persuade the court that law enforcement compiled false evidence or omitted facts that would have changed the probable cause calculus. Young also was unpersuaded by the plaintiffs’ claims that Whisenand “did not include the fact that DEA presented the case to the federal prosecutors, and they declined to prosecute saying it was not a ‘provable’ case.”

The judge wrote the evidence in its totality was sufficient to support a conviction, let alone probable cause.

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