A former physician assistant student at Lock Haven University sued eight individual defendants (but not the university) after his dismissal from the program, alleging civil rights violations.

Contributed by Danielle L. Dietrich

A former physician assistant student at Lock Haven University sued eight individual defendants (but not the university) after his dismissal from the program, alleging civil rights violations.

In Weil v. White, 4:12-cv:00413 (M.D. Pa. October 24, 2014), Stephen Weil alleged that defendants unconstitutionally retaliated against him for his lawful exercise of his First Amendment freedom of speech rights.  According to defendants, Weil had ongoing issues with his conduct and professionalism.

During one of his clinical rotations, Weil was removed from the rotation due to his alleged misconduct and medical incompetence.  However, during the rotation, Weil raised questions regarding ethical concerns over potentially fraudulent insurance billing.  Weil believed his removal from the rotation to be due to his expression of ethical concerns, not his conduct as purported.  One of the defendants in the case was his preceptor from the private medical practice from whose clinical rotation he was removed.  District Judge Matthew Brann of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District found that the preceptor was not a state actor sufficient to maintain civil rights claims because the preceptor’s actions were motivated by his position as the manager of a private medical practice, not as an officer or employee of the state.  Lock Haven University was not so interdependent with the medical practice such that the court could impute state action to the medical practice generally.

The other seven defendants in the suit are various faculty members and administrators associated with the physician assistant program at Lock Haven University.  Judge Brann’s opinion discusses at length the numerous bumps in the road that Weil ran into as he tried to complete the program.  Ultimately, Weil was dismissed from the program after failing his practical examination twice.

Weil challenged that his dismissal was, in fact, based upon his vocalization of ethical concerns regarding the billing practices in his clinical rotation.  The court found that there was no disputed that the asserted conduct (speaking up about ethical violations) is constitutionally protected.  It also found that the seven defendants associated with the university qualified as state actors.  However, Weil failed to establish a causal connection between the protected speech and his dismissal from the program, and whether the dismissal was sufficiently retaliatory.  The court found that Weil had only presented conclusory allegations, and failed to designate specific facts in support of his position.  As such, the court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case.

Link to opinion: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=3663157578287611925&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

Danielle Dietrich can be reached via email: ddietrich@tuckerlaw.com, telephone: 412-594-5605 or on Twitter at @DLDietrich.