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Isaacs v. United States Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 12, 2018

JEFFREY ISAACS, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS

          F. DENNIS SAYLOR, IV UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter arises out of a long-standing dispute between a former medical resident and a medical school. Plaintiff Jeffrey Isaacs has brought suit against the Department of Education alleging, among other things, that its Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”) failed to investigate the circumstances surrounding his termination from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire. Isaacs has asserted two claims under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A). In Count 1, he contends that OCR's decision to deny his appeal to investigate his administrative complaint was an “arbitrary and capricious” agency action in violation of the APA. In Count 2, he contends that the Office of Federal Student Aid's decision to deny his appeal to discharge more than $200, 000 in student loan debt was similarly “arbitrary and capricious.”

         Defendant has moved to dismiss Count 1 on the grounds of sovereign immunity and failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that sovereign immunity has not been waived, and the motion will be granted.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The facts are set forth as described in the amended complaint and public record. Because the government has only moved to dismiss Count 1 of the amended complaint, this memorandum and order will not address factual allegations solely related to plaintiff's claim concerning the Office of Federal Student Aid.

         Dr. Jeffrey Isaacs is a resident of Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 14). In 1997, while he was an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, he suffered a head injury because of an incident with an intoxicated student. (Id. ¶ 18). The head injury caused long-lasting effects, including “post-concussion syndrome, ” and hindered his ability to finish his pre-med course requirements. (Id.). He dropped several difficult classes and ultimately obtained a degree in computer science. (Id.). He went on to attend the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and received a Masters in Business Administration there. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 19). By 2005, he had completed the pre-med course requirements that he did not finish at Dartmouth. (Id. ¶ 19).

         In 2005, Isaacs enrolled at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. (Id. ¶ 20). However, during his first year, there was what he calls “[a]n unfortunate series of circumstances.” (Id.). The complaint states that there was an allegation of unprofessionalism brought by one of his classmates. (Id.).[1] Keck suspended Isaacs in February 2006, and ultimately expelled him. See In re: Jeffrey D. Isaacs, M.D., N.H. Bd. of Med., Docket No. 13-07, (Mar. 11, 2014).[2] Isaacs subsequently sued Keck, and ultimately two settlements were reached. (Compl. ¶ 21). The first settlement, which was agreed to in September 2007, sealed certain school records relating to Isaacs. (Id.). The second settlement, which was entered into in 2008, “discharge[d] all contracts and agreements” relating to his time at Keck. (Id.).

         In order to pursue a medical degree, Isaacs enrolled in the American University of the Caribbean Medical School. (Id. ¶ 22). He received a degree from that institution in 2010. (Id.). He received more than $200, 000 in federal student aid to pay for his tuition. (Id.). He took the United States Medical Licensing Examination, and his score “exceeded that of the average neurosurgeon, his desired specialty.” (Id.).

         After graduating, Isaacs began a surgical program residency at the University of Arizona. (Id. ¶ 23). By his third day, supervisors described him as “far behind his peers” and lacking “technical ability.” (Id.). The complaint alleges that Isaacs had “perfectly completed the only procedure, a sub-cuticular suture, that he had been required to perform.” (Id.). He resigned from the residency after approximately six weeks. (Id.).

         Isaacs then received a psychiatric residency position at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire in 2011. (Id. ¶ 24). In his application, he “omitted both his attendance at [Keck] and his aborted residency at [the University of Arizona].” Isaacs v. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Med. Ctr., 2014 WL 1572559, at *2 (D.N.H. Apr. 18, 2014) (granting summary judgment to defendants).[3] The complaint alleges that immediately upon his arrival at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, he was “subject to mistreatment and abuse.” (Compl. ¶ 25). Specifically, it alleges that he was ordered to “perform two unnecessary prostate examinations” and was treated differently from other residents. (Id.). Nevertheless, according to the complaint, he received “predominately positive reviews during [his] psychiatry rotations.” (Id. ¶ 26).

         It appears that relatively early in his tenure at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Isaacs was placed on probation. (Id.). “[T]he stress of being placed on probation, ” coupled with “criticism from superiors” “led to the development of significant health problems.” (Id.). The complaint alleges that he developed a severe sleep disorder and requested medical leave to recuperate. (Id. ¶ 27). However, his supervisors denied his request for leave. (Id.). The complaint alleges that the sleep disorder also stemmed from his head injury that he suffered at Dartmouth College in 1997. (Id. ¶ 29).

         In January 2012, a supervisor discovered that Isaacs had previously been a resident at the University of Arizona. (Id. ¶ 30). A confrontation with the supervisor led to Isaacs suffering a “psychological crisis.” (Id.). On March 19, 2012, Dartmouth-Hitchcock issued a letter to Isaacs stating that he was being terminated for his failure to disclose his record at Keck and his Arizona residency. (Id. ¶ 31). Isaacs acknowledges that he never disclosed his record at Keck, but contends that he did so because he believed his prior litigation sealed all documents relating to his attendance there. (Id. ¶ 44). The complaint alleges that he has since applied for a residency at “nearly every hospital in the country, ” but that he has been denied each time. (Id. ¶ 47).

         The New Hampshire Board of Medicine revoked Isaacs's medical license and found that his termination from Dartmouth-Hitchcock was appropriate because he concealed material information in his residency application. See In re: Jeffrey D. Isaacs, M.D., at 8. The Board of Medicine further reprimanded him for not only failing to provide any “credible evidence” in support of his position, but also “knowingly” making a false statement. Id. at 8-9.

         Isaacs alleges that he “repeatedly attempted to have Dartmouth investigate his claims” that he was terminated “without any of the administrative procedures established by Dartmouth policies.” (Compl. ¶¶ 31-32). The complaint alleges that Dartmouth-Hitchcock declined to investigate his claims for two years. (Id. ¶ 32). Frustrated with what he perceived to be “obfuscations and denials, ” Isaacs filed two suits pro se: the first was in the District of New Hampshire, and the second was in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33).[4] Both ...


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