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Boursoumian v. University at Buffalo

March 10, 2009

RAFFI BOURSOUMIAN, M.D., PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO, THE STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AND BIOMEDICAL SCIENCES, UNIVERSITY MEDICAL RESIDENT SERVICES, P.C., ROSEANNE BERGER, M.D., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SENIOR ASSOCIATE DEAN OF GRADUATE MEDICAL EDUCATION, JAMES HASSETT, M.D., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PROGRAM DIRECTOR OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SURGERY, AND ROGER SEIBEL, M.D., INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PROFESSOR OF SURGERY IN THE DEPARTMENT OF SURGERY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On November 22, 2006, Plaintiff Barsoumian filed an Order to Show Cause for Preliminary Injunction, and a Summons and Complaint, in New York State Supreme Court, County of Erie. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was improperly terminated from the surgical residency program at Defendant University at Buffalo's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (the University and its School of Medicine are referred to hereafter as "UB").

On December 15, 2006,Defendant University Medical Resident Services, P.C. ("UMRS") removed the action to this Court on the ground that it contains claims over which the Court has original jurisdiction. Presently before this Court are a Motion to Dismiss by Defendants UB, Hassett, Seibel and Berger (Docket No. 4), a Motion to Dismiss by UMRS (Docket No. 8), and Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction (Docket No. 19).

Having reviewed the parties' submissions on the respective motions, this Court finds further oral argument unnecessary.*fn1

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Allegations

UB's medical school contains a Department of Surgery. Its post-graduate training program for a general surgery resident is typically five years in length. Docket No. 1, Complaint, ¶ 8. These post-graduate training years are denominated as PGY1, PGY2, PGY3, PGY4 and PGY5. Id. ¶ 9. A surgical resident must successfully complete each year of the program in order to be promoted to the next year. Id. ¶ 10. This includes the successful completion of rotations in hospitals affiliated with UB. Id.

General surgery residents enter into annual contracts of employment-the Residency Employment Agreement ("Agreement")-with UMRS, pursuant to which the residents agree to provide professional medical services in one or more of the teaching hospitals affiliated with UB. Id. ¶ 11, Ex. A ¶ 1. A resident's Agreement is renewed for a successive one-year term upon his or her satisfactory evaluation for the current year by appointed faculty members. Id. ¶ 11, Ex. A ¶ 3. In addition to the Agreement, UB provides a Probation and Dismissal Policy, setting forth the circumstances under which a program may decide to dismiss a resident or not renew the Agreement, and a Grievance Procedures Policy, which is the "exclusive mechanism for redress" of a dispute between a resident and the residency program or UMRS. Id. ¶¶ 12-13, Exs. B, C.

In March 2002, Plaintiff was offered, and accepted, a position in UB's general surgery residency training program as a PGY1 resident. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Plaintiff entered into an Agreement with UMRS for the period June 17, 2002 through June 23, 2003. Id. ¶¶ 24-25, Ex. A. Plaintiff's Agreement was renewed for PGY2, and again for PGY3. Id. ¶¶ 28-33, Ex. A.

According to Plaintiff, sometime after June 5, 2004, Defendant Hassett embarked on a campaign to remove him from the Department of Surgery. Id. ¶ 42. Early in Plaintiff's PGY3, Hassett placed him on probation with the goal of improving his professional activity, including his communication skills, attention to detail, administrative activity and professional behavior. Id. ¶ 43, Ex. D. During his probation, in July 2004 and October 2004, Plaintiff received unsatisfactory evaluations for trauma rotations he performed at Erie County Medical Center ("ECMC"). In November 2004, Hassett advised Plaintiff that he would need to remediate the unsatisfactory rotations and that failure to do so could lead to dismissal from the program. Id. ¶¶ 45-46. Plaintiff and the ECMC faculty agreed that Plaintiff would return to ECMC at a later date to remediate. Id. ¶ 46.

On January 10, 2005, Hassett notified Plaintiff that he had successfully completed his probation and was being returned to "good standing." Id. ¶¶ 53-54. For the first time, Hassett also informed Plaintiff that there might be a challenge to his returning to ECMC for trauma rotations. Id. ¶ 55. Plaintiff believes Defendant Seibel, influenced by Hassett's campaign against Plaintiff, decided not to permit him to return to ECMC. Id. ¶ 48.

Approximately one week later, on January 18, 2005, Hassett informed Plaintiff that his Agreement would not be renewed for the next contract year. Id. ¶ 57. At that point, Plaintiff had successfully completed his probation, but had not yet had the opportunity to remediate his trauma rotations. Id. ¶ 63. Shortly thereafter, on February 4, 2005, Seibel notified Hassett by letter that ECMC would allow Plaintiff to return to remediate his trauma rotations. Id. ¶ 51.

Hassett scheduled a Level I discussion with Plaintiff relative to his non-renewal, pursuant to the Grievance Procedure Policy. Id. ¶ 58, Ex. C. At the conclusion of the discussion, on February 7, 2005, Hassett maintained the decision not to renew Plaintiff's Agreement, despite the fact that Plaintiff had been returned to "good standing." Id. ¶¶ 58, 61. Plaintiff requested a Level II grievance hearing and, on July 12, 2005, the Level II grievance committee upheld the decision not to renew. Id. ¶¶ 66-67.

Plaintiff requested a Level III review hearing, the final step in the grievance process. Id. ¶ 68. The level III review committee held a hearing on October 31, 2005 and "unanimously agreed that the Level 2 Committee's decision to uphold [Plaintiff's] non-renewal was a violation of UB policy." Id. ¶ 69, Ex. D. The committee concluded that "the process of non-renewal decision making was flawed" and "did not follow the written policy as stated in [UB's] Policies and Procedures, including the Probation and Dismissal Policy." Id. Ex. D.

In November 2005, Cheryl Kishbaugh, UB's Associate Dean of Graduate Medical Education, notified Plaintiff that he had been put back on the payroll and would be reinstated as a PGY3 surgery resident. Id. ¶¶ 68, 71-72. Over the next three months, Plaintiff repeatedly inquired as to when he would be returned to work and was given no indication that he would not, in fact, be reinstated. Id. ¶¶ 73-75. Ultimately, on February 21, 2006, Defendant Berger informed Plaintiff that he would not be returned to the Department of Surgery because "UB ...


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