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Brown v. State Board of Accountancy

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Third Division

August 27, 2019

CHRYL BROWN, Petitioner/Appellant,
v.
STATE BOARD OF ACCOUNTANCY, Respondent/Respondent.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Charles County Honorable Jon A. Cunningham.

          Sherri B. Sullivan, Judge.

         Introduction

         Chryl Brown (Brown) appeals from the decision of the Missouri State Board of Accountancy (Board) placing her license on probation for three years, as well as requiring her to complete a supplementary ethics course and an increased yearly continuing professional education (CPE) requirement. We reverse and remand.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Brown holds a certificate and license to practice accountancy in Missouri. In order to renew her license, Brown is required to complete no less than 120 hours of CPE every three-year period, with a minimum of 20 hours completed every year. License holders are required to maintain records of their CPE hours and must regularly submit those records to the Board as a part of the license renewal. License holders are also subject to audit by the Board of their claimed CPE hours. Should the Board contact a license holder and request a formal response, they are required to respond to such communications by registered or certified mail within 30 days.

         In 2011 Brown suffered a number of personal tragedies, including the unexpected deaths of family members. By the end of 2011, Brown had logged no CPE hours. Brown contacted the Board, explained her circumstances, and requested a waiver for her yearly CPE requirements for 2011, as well as a reduction in the CPE requirements from 2009-2011. In response, Samantha Green, an attorney representing the Board, sent a letter to Brown stating her CPE submission had been accepted for the 2009-2011 period and the matter had been closed. The letter stated Brown would be subject to another audit during the next reporting period.

         In December 2014, Brown received a letter from Thomas DeGroodt, the executive director of the Board. This letter informed Brown her CPE submissions for the 2011-2013 period had also been accepted, and she met the Board's CPE requirements for that period.

         In June 2015, Brown received another letter from Thomas DeGroodt. This letter stated the Board had opened a complaint against Brown because she failed an audit of her 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 CPE requirements. This letter also stated she had failed to respond to an earlier letter sent in May 2015. The Board's letter warned Brown she was to respond to the letter by July 16, 2015, or she would be in violation of Board rules. The record of this case contains a letter from Brown in response to the Board's June 2015 letter. This letter is dated July 16, 2015; however, nothing in the record indicates if or when the Board received it. In this letter, Brown states she failed to respond to the May 2015 letter from the Board because she set it aside and forgot about it. Brown also reminded the Board she had previously sent all the requested CPE information for the period in question, at which time the Board told Brown it was accepting her hours.

         In February 2016, the Board filed a formal complaint against Brown with the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC). This complaint alleged two rule violations by Brown. The first count alleged Brown had failed to complete her required CPE hours for 2011, 2012, and 2013. The complaint alleged Brown had filed zero hours in 2011, 23 hours in 2012, and 79 hours in 2013, for a total of 102 CPE hours for the period. The complaint claimed this made her deficient both for the minimum requirement of 2011 and the total requirement for that three-year period. The second count alleged Brown had violated Board rules by failing to respond to the letter sent by the Board in June 2015.

         After receiving the complaint, the AHC attempted to serve notice on Brown at her last known address by certified mail. This attempt was unsuccessful, and the mail was returned as "unclaimed." In March 2016, the Board attempted to serve Brown personally via private process server. This too was unsuccessful. Finally, on the Board's motion, the AHC served notice on Brown via publication between July and September 2016. Brown never responded, and the Board motioned for a default decision, which was granted by the AHC in September 2016. Notice of the default decision was received by Brown that same month. Brown made no request the default be set aside, and it became final October 21, 2016.

         After the default became final, Brown obtained counsel. The Board and Brown, through counsel, agreed on a date on which to hold a hearing to determine what, if any, discipline Brown should face. The disciplinary hearing was held in August 2017. Brown testified at the hearing and was allowed to introduce several exhibits into evidence. The exhibits included the above-mentioned letters Brown received from the Board informing her that her CPE deficiency from 2011 had been excused, and her CPE requirements were deemed acceptable for the 2009-2011 period as well as the 2011-2013 period. Brown testified she had received a letter in May 2015 warning her the previously excused CPE deficiencies were the subject of a possible Board complaint. Brown testified she had attempted to respond to the letter by calling Samantha Green, attorney for the Board, several times, but had not responded in writing as required. When asked why, Brown replied she attempted to resolve the matter informally because she believed it must have been a mistake, since the Board had already accepted her CPE hours. Brown testified she received the June 2015 letter from the Board on the same subject, and responded to this letter in writing.

         After the disciplinary hearing, the Board took the matter under advisement. Thereafter, the Board issued its Disciplinary Order placing Brown's license to practice accountancy on probation for a period of three years, ordering her to take an ethics course, and increasing her yearly CPE requirements. The Disciplinary Order contained a section titled Findings of Fact. This section stated the Board found 1) the Board had authority to regulate and discipline licensed accountants, 2) Brown is a licensed accountant, 3) Brown received a default decision from the AHC, and 4) Brown appeared at the disciplinary hearing and presented evidence on her behalf. The Disciplinary Order made no specific mention of any of the evidence presented at the hearing or how it affected what discipline the Board imposed on Brown.

         Brown appealed the Board's Disciplinary Order to the circuit court, which affirmed the ...


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