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Medici v. Lifespan Corp.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

June 3, 2019




         Defendants Lifespan Corporation, Rhode Island Hospital, and Michael Susienka ("Defendants") move to dismiss Plaintiff Dr. Damian Medici's Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 92.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Dr. Medici is a research scientist specializing in stem cell research. From 2012 through 2015, Dr. Medici was employed by Rhode Island Hospital ("RIH") and appointed as an Associate Professor at Brown University's medical school. Dr. Medici's research focused on processes by which standard cells transform to stem` cells-some of his research focused on a particular process known as endothelial-mesenchymal transition, or "EndMT." In EndMT, endothelial cells-cells that line the surface of blood cells-transform to mesenchymal cells, or stem cells.

         Defendant Michael Susienka was hired by Dr. Medici to work in his lab at RIH. While working for Dr. Medici, Mr. Susienka reviewed articles published by Dr. Medici and noticed several images in those articles that appeared to be duplicates of images in other of Dr. Medici's articles. The duplicate images purported to represent the results of different experiments. Mr. Susienka reported the sets of images that he believed were duplicates to Lifespan, the parent of RIH. Lifespan investigated allegations of image duplication, [1] image manipulation, and falsification of data and concluded that Dr. Medici engaged in research misconduct with respect to three of four allegations.[2] Dr. Medici's employment by RIH was terminated in light of the findings of research misconduct.

         Federal Regulations and Lifespan's Research Misconduct Policy

         Lifespan and RIH, institutions that receive funding from federal Public Health Service agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, must comply with federal regulations regarding research misconduct. The regulations, which appear at 42 C.F.R. Part 93 (the "Regulations"), require that institutions respond to each allegation of research misconduct for which the institution is responsible and that institutions adopt written policies regarding the process for addressing allegations of research misconduct when the research is supported by Public Health Service funds. 42 C.F.R. § 93.300.

         The Lifespan Policy on Research Misconduct (the "Misconduct Policy") was adopted pursuant to the Regulations and provides that it "will normally be followed when a Lifespan official receives an Allegation," but that "particular circumstances in an individual case may dictate variation from the normal procedure where it is determined to be in the best interests of research integrity, or as needed for the operation of Lifespan and/or of any relevant federal agency." The Regulations and Misconduct Policy provide that when an allegation of research misconduct is received, the Research Integrity Officer ("RIO") must determine if the allegation identifies actions that constitute research misconduct and is credible and specific enough so that evidence of misconduct can be identified. If the RIO determines that the allegation meets these requirements, a two-stage process is followed before a determination of research misconduct can be made.

         The first stage is an "inquiry," conducted by an Inquiry Committee empaneled by the RIO. The purpose of the inquiry is to determine whether the second stage of the process-the investigation-is warranted. The Inquiry Committee makes a preliminary evaluation of the evidence and testimony, normally interviewing the complainant, respondent, and other witnesses as provided in the Misconduct Policy. At the end of the inquiry stage, the Inquiry Committee prepares a written summary of the evidence, its conclusions, and a recommendation on whether to proceed to the investigation stage. The Inquiry Committee report and respondent's comments are provided to the Deciding Official ("DO") to decide whether to adopt the Inquiry Committee recommendation. If an investigation is warranted, the Misconduct Policy and the Regulations require that the institution notify the Office of Research Integrity ("ORI") of the decision to proceed to investigation.

         The Investigation Committee is selected by the RIO and takes custody of and reviews the evidence collected by the Inquiry Committee, as well as any additional relevant evidence. The Investigation Committee issues a preliminary report explaining its process, the evidence, and conclusions as to each allegation. A finding of research misconduct requires that the conduct at issue constitute "a significant departure from accepted practices of the relevant research community," that the "misconduct be committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly," and that "the allegation be proven by a preponderance of the evidence." The respondent is provided with a copy of the preliminary report and has thirty days to respond. The Investigation Committee considers the respondent's comments, makes any modifications to its report, and issues a final report of the investigation. Under Lifespan's Misconduct Policy, the respondent is given an opportunity to respond to the final report.

         The Investigation Committee's final report and respondent's comments are forwarded to the DO, who decides whether to adopt the Investigation Committee's findings. The DO's determination, the Investigation Committee's report, and the respondent's response are sent to ORI.

         ORI may review the institution's findings and process, make its own finding of research misconduct, propose administrative actions, or take no action at all.

         Procedural History

         Dr. Medici initially filed this action in the District of Massachusetts and transferred it to this Court. Dr. Medici's Second Amended Complaint alleges seven causes of action: (i) breach of contract arising out of Lifespan's alleged breach of the Misconduct Policy,' (ii) breach of contract arising out of Lifespan's termination of Dr. Medici; (iii) defamation; (iv) tortious interference with advantageous relations; (v) intentional infliction of ...

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