FINN F.  (and a companion case  ).
Heard: December 4, 2018.
Complaint for protection from harassment filed in the
Superior Court Department on June 8, 2016. The case was heard
by Elizabeth M. Fahey, J.
Michael R. Byrne & Robert J. Cordy for the defendant.
E., pro se.
J. Cloherty for President and Fellows of Harvard College.
Present: Meade, Agnes, & Englander, JJ.
defendant and his employer, Harvard University (university),
appeal from civil harassment prevention orders issued
pursuant to G. L. c. 258E, § 3 (a.) . This case
presents another opportunity for us to clarify the
requirements for obtaining relief under that statute,
as well as the scope of relief that is available. The
plaintiff was a fifth-year graduate student in the Ph.D.
program in the biological and biomedical sciences program
(BBS program) at the university. The defendant is a professor
and the director of the plaintiff's research laboratory
(lab) at the university.
case involves the plaintiff's relationship with the
defendant and other lab members. The plaintiff sought a c.
258E harassment prevention order against the defendant in
June of 2016, alleging a series of actions described more
fully in the discussion section, infra. In August of
2016 a Superior Court judge found that the defendant had met
the standards for harassment under G. L. c. 258E, and entered
a harassment prevention order against him; in addition, the
judge ordered that the plaintiff "immediately be fully
restored to his position and research . . . with all [his]
assistance, equipment, and supplies." Thereafter the
judge entered six more orders directed to the plaintiff's
relationships with the university, culminating in an order
that the university, among other things, "vacate"
the plaintiff's withdrawal from the university and
"restore" the plaintiff's status as a graduate
student. Because the evidence does not support the conclusion
that the plaintiff was harassed by the defendant, as defined
by c. 258E and subsequent case law, and because the expansive
relief ordered by the Superior Court judge far exceeded that
authorized by the statute, we vacate the harassment
are two overarching but interrelated factual narratives. The
first is that on March 10, 2016, the plaintiff filed a
confidential complaint with the president of the university
alleging research misconduct by the defendant and other lab
members. The second is that at roughly the same time, if not
before, the plaintiff's relationships with at least some
of his fellow lab members became acrimonious, which
eventually led to serious disruptions within the lab.
the research misconduct complaint, the plaintiff alleged the
knowing publication of false data by the defendant and two
other Ph.D. candidates. In accordance with the
university's process for investigating such complaints,
two university officials met with the plaintiff on March 25
concerning his allegations. The defendant did not become
aware of the complaint until May 4, when university officials
advised him that he was the subject of an inquiry into
allegations of research misconduct. Although the defendant
was not advised that the plaintiff was the complainant, the
defendant suspected that the complainant was the plaintiff.
The university's investigation did not substantiate the
plaintiff's allegations; this fact was communicated to
the defendant on or around May 16.
March through June of 2016, the plaintiff's relationship
with the lab, and the lab members, deteriorated
significantly. The plaintiff wrote an e-mail to the defendant
on April 6, 2016, in which he described hostile interactions
between himself and three different lab members, which at
that point had been occurring for at least several weeks. The
plaintiff's complaints included that other lab members
had called him "immoral" and a
"hypocrite," and that he had been accused both of
lying about a potential collaboration and of trying to steal
a lab member's research assistant. The plaintiff also
stated in this e-mail that some lab members had stopped
communicating with him altogether. On April 21, the plaintiff
and the defendant met with a university ombudsperson to
discuss ways to alleviate the tensions. The meetings were
initially considered positive and plans were made for a
future meeting between the plaintiff and the other lab
members, but the plaintiff later declined a joint meeting,
and relations did not improve.
granting the c. 258E order, the judge found five acts of
harassment. The first two were based on the following. In
early May, around the time when the defendant definitively
learned of the research misconduct allegations, the defendant
met with two of the lab members whom the plaintiff had
accused of acting hostile toward him; both of these lab
members also had been accused of involvement in the
defendant's research misconduct. The judge found that on
May 10, at the defendant's suggestion, the two lab
members spoke to William Lensch, the executive director of
the department of stem cell and regenerative history, and
expressed concerns about the plaintiff's behavior --
including concerns regarding the plaintiff's welfare,
their personal safety, and the potential sabotage of their
work. The judge found that the defendant's suggestion
that the lab members speak with Lensch was the first act of
harassment. Later on May 10, the defendant spoke with Lensch
regarding the plaintiff, and expressed his own concerns about
the plaintiff's erratic behavior. The judge found that
this conversation was the second act of harassment. The judge
also found that these acts were done maliciously with the
goal of intimidating and discrediting the plaintiff.
May 10 conversations with Lensch started a series of
communications among several university administrators, and
culminated in a meeting between the plaintiff; David Cardozo,
the associate dean for graduate studies; and Susan Dymecki,
the head of the BBS program. The meeting was
reportedly productive, but any positive effects were short
lived. On May 18, the plaintiff sent an e-mail to the
defendant and ombudsperson Melissa Brodrick, in which the
plaintiff requested that future meetings with his fellow lab
members be supervised, that he receive lab mice for his
experiments, and that he receive additional research
assistants. The defendant believed that the tone of the
e-mail was confrontational. He informed Cardozo and Lensch of
the e-mail and indicated he was still concerned about the
plaintiff's behavior. The plaintiff, Cardozo, and Dymecki
had another meeting on May 20 to discuss the situation --
plans were made to meet again on May 25.
21, the plaintiff stopped coming to the lab altogether; he
canceled the May 25 meeting with Dymecki and Cardozo, he
canceled a meeting with the defendant, and he canceled an
appointment with his psychiatrist at the university health
services (HUHS). Following the cancelations, Dymecki and
Cardozo contacted the plaintiff out of concern for his
welfare. The plaintiff informed them that he was
"alright," but that he would only be "dealing
with the [o]ffice of the [p]resident" for now. He
requested that Dymecki and Cardozo refrain from contacting
judge found that the defendant's actions on June 3, 2016,
formed the basis of the third, fourth, and fifth harassing
acts against the plaintiff. Over the course of the afternoon
on June 3, the defendant reached out to Dymecki and others to
express alarm at the plaintiff's "hostile and
erratic behavior." That evening at 8:27 P..M., after
deliberating as to the best course of action, the defendant
suggested to Dymecki that they should "get advice from a
mental health professional." The judge found that this
suggestion from the defendant to Dymecki was the third act of
harassment. After Dymecki contacted HUHS at the
defendant's request, a clinician from HUHS called the
defendant twice on the evening of June 3. The defendant told
the HUHS clinician that the plaintiff was exhibiting
increased paranoia and ideation and that the plaintiff had
abruptly canceled several meetings, and the defendant
recounted the plaintiff's conflicts with other lab
members. The judge found these two telephone calls to be the
fourth and fifth harassing acts.
11:15 £.M. on June 3, Dr. Ayse Atasoylu, a physician at
HUHS, authorized the temporary involuntary hospitalization of
the plaintiff pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 12. That
authorization was based on information provided to Atasoylu
by the HUHS clinician who spoke with the defendant earlier in
the evening. Atasoylu never examined or spoke with the
plaintiff prior to authorizing the § 12 hospitalization.
In the early morning hours of June 4, three police officers
arrived at the plaintiff's home and brought the plaintiff
to Cambridge Hospital against his wishes. The plaintiff was
examined and released several hours later after physicians
concluded that he was not at "imminent risk for
self-harm." On June 6, following his release from the
hospital, the plaintiff was barred from returning to the lab.