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Unger v. National Residents Matching Program

filed: April 2, 1991.

LISA D. UNGER, APPELLANT
v.
NATIONAL RESIDENTS MATCHING PROGRAM; TEMPLE UNIVERSITY OF THE COMMONWEALTH SYSTEM; TEMPLE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL; PAUL BOEHRINGER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PRESIDENT OF TEMPLE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL; MARTIN GOLDBERG, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS DEAN OF TEMPLE UNIVERSITY MEDICAL SCHOOL; RICHARD REDMOND, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT IN CHARGE OF THE RESIDENCY PROGRAM; LEON MALMUD, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS VICE PRESIDENT OF TEMPLE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL; PETER LIACOURIS, IN HIS CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT OF TEMPLE UNIVERSITY AND EX-OFFICIO MEMBER OF THE TEMPLE UNIVERSITY BOARD OF TRUSTEES; AND RICHARD KOZERA, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN OFFICER OF TEMPLE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; D.C. Civil Action No. 89-04473.

Stapleton, Hutchinson and Rosenn, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hutchinson

Opinion OF THE COURT

HUTCHINSON, Circuit Judge

Lisa D. Unger (Unger) appeals an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granting appellee Temple University Hospital's motion to dismiss Unger's 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West 1981) claim. In her complaint, Unger sought to state a claim for the deprivation, without due process of law, of a liberty or property right protected under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The district court held that the complaint failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, we will affirm.

I.

In early February, 1989, Temple University and Temple University Hospital (collectively Temple or the Hospital) decided to discontinue its three-year graduate residency program in dermatology effective June 30, 1990. Unger, a physician licensed to practice medicine in the state of Pennsylvania, was scheduled to enter the Hospital's dermatology residency program in July, 1989. The Hospital informed Unger on February 10, 1989, that she would be unable to begin her dermatology residency at the Hospital because of the program's impending demise.

Unger was admitted into the Hospital's residency program in dermatology on October 5, 1988, through an application filed in June, 1988, with the National Resident Matching Program (Matching Program). Physicians seeking admission into graduate medical training programs do not apply directly to hospitals. Instead, students submit to the Matching Program a list of those hospitals offering their desired residency programs, ranked in order of preference. The Matching Program then transmits this information to the various hospitals, along with information about the students who have applied for the residencies. After evaluating the applicants, the hospitals set forth their own preferences among the students who have applied for residencies with them. Once the Matching Program receives this information from the hospitals, the Matching Program's computers go to work matching students with hospitals in a manner that is intended to reflect the preferences that both parties have expressed.

As a condition of participating in the Matching Program, each student and each school agree to be bound by the results of the match. Each student is accepted into only one school, and each school is provided with no more than the maximum number of students that it can accommodate. Thus, when Temple decided to close its graduate residency program in dermatology just five months before Unger's scheduled date of enrollment, Unger and presumably other students were faced with the unexpected need to make other plans.

In the aftermath of this unanticipated development, Unger brought suit on June 14, 1989, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Matching Program, Temple University, its Hospital and several Temple University and Hospital officials. In count one of her complaint, she attempted to state a claim under 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 1983 and 1985 (West 1981). The remaining counts of Unger's complaint set forth pendent claims for relief under state law.

On July 19, 1989, Unger voluntarily dismissed the Matching Program from her suit. Thereafter, Temple filed a motion on behalf of all remaining defendants to dismiss count one of Unger's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The district court agreed that count one of Unger's complaint failed to state a claim. As a result, the district court entered judgment on count one in favor of all defendants. The district court then dismissed Unger's pendent state law claims without prejudice, so that Unger could refile them in state court.

Unger appeals, arguing that the district court erred in holding that she failed to state a claim that Temple University and its Hospital violated her rights to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.

In her complaint, Unger also said that Temple failed to assist her in securing admission into another dermatology residency program in Philadelphia after deciding to terminate its own program. She further claimed that Temple refused to give her funding to attend another dermatology residency program even though she believed that she would have been accepted into an alternate program had financial assistance been provided.

II.

Instead of filing an answer, Temple moved to dismiss count one of the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). On April 19, 1990, the district court heard oral argument concerning Temple's motion to dismiss. Following the argument, the district court took a short recess and then ruled from the bench that it would dismiss count one of Unger's complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim and would dismiss the remaining pendent state law counts without prejudice. On April 25, 1990, the district court issued a written opinion and final order to that effect. Unger filed a timely notice of appeal on May 21, 1990.

In her appeal, Unger raises essentially four issues. First, she argues that the district court erred when it failed to hold that her complaint set forth a property or liberty interest sufficient to withstand Temple's motion to dismiss. Second, Unger argues that the district court erred when it held that she received all process due her from Temple under the facts and circumstances described in her complaint. Third, she argues that the district court failed to assume all facts pleaded in her complaint to be true and failed to draw all reasonable inferences from those facts in her favor. Finally, she argues that the district court should have given her leave to amend her complaint before dismissing it.

III.

We have appellate jurisdiction over the district court's final order pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. § 1291 (West Supp. 1990). Because Unger sought to state a claim under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, the district court exercised subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.A. §§ 1331 and 1343 (West Supp. 1990).

Since the district court dismissed Unger's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, our scope of review is plenary:

We accept as true the facts alleged in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim is limited to those instances where it is certain that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved.

Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Ransom v. Marrazzo, 848 F.2d 398, 401 (3d Cir. 1988). We review Unger's contention that the district court should have offered her the opportunity to amend her complaint for abuse of discretion. See Newark Branch, NAACP v. Town of Harrison, 907 F.2d 1408, 1417 (3d Cir. 1990).

IV.

In count one of her complaint, Unger alleged that Temple violated her "guaranteed constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1985." At oral argument before the district court, Unger abandoned any claim under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1985 (West 1981). On appeal, the issues Unger raises focus solely upon her attempt to state a claim under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983.

In relevant part, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 states:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

Unger alleged in her complaint that Temple acted under color of state law when it decided to terminate its Hospital's graduate medical residency in dermatology.*fn1

The specific constitutional right that Unger says Temple violated is her right to procedural due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. In her reply brief, Unger expressly disclaimed reliance upon any substantive due process rights. In relevant part, section one of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall "deprive any person of ...


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