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Pik v. University of Pennsylvania

October 7, 2010

JIRI PIK
v.
THE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.

MEMORANDUM

This action arises out of the plaintiff's brief time as a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania ("Penn") during the 2003-2004 academic year, and his subsequent separation from the University. The plaintiff alleges that during his time at Penn, he had a conflict with a professor that led to numerous appeals to the University, the plaintiff's subsequent referral to Penn's counseling service, and his ultimately being forced to take a medical leave of absence. The plaintiff alleges that Penn denied his return from medical leave by imposing unreasonable conditions. Further, the plaintiff argues that Penn provided false and damaging references to his subsequent employers, which led to the termination of his employment.

In his pro se complaint, the plaintiff alleges state law claims for breach of contract and negligence (Count I), as well as fraudulent misrepresentation (Count II). In addition, the plaintiff alleges the following federal claims: violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") and the patient confidentiality provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 290dd-2 (Count III); violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count IV); and a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the plaintiff's constitutional right to a liberty interest in his reputation (Count V). Penn has moved to dismiss Count I in part, and Counts II through V in their entirety, for failure to state a claim. The Court will grant the defendant's motion to dismiss in part and deny it in part.

I. Facts as Alleged in the Complaint

In evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true, and must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009).*fn1

The plaintiff, Jiri Pik, was a graduate student in the Department of Economics at Penn during the 2003-2004 academic year. During that time, the plaintiff was enrolled in a lecture course taught by Professor David Cass, with whom the plaintiff developed a conflict. The plaintiff was singled out by Professor Cass, who ridiculed him in front of his classmates. In addition, Professor Cass made inappropriate physical contact with the plaintiff, prevented him from attending classes and office hours, and otherwise threatened him. Compl. ¶¶ 8-9.

In light of his conflict with Professor Cass, the plaintiff contacted the University Ombudsman and the Economics Department Chair, whose interventions were "fruitless." Compl. ¶¶ 9, 13. After receiving a poor grade on his final exam in Professor Cass's course, the plaintiff was refused the opportunity to review his exam, and his subsequent appeals to the administration were denied. Compl. ¶¶ 14-15. As a result of the plaintiff's multiple appeals, he was referred to Penn's psychological services ("CAPS") for an evaluation. There, the plaintiff met with a counselor and a psychiatrist, and was diagnosed as suffering from a "euphoric/manic state." Compl. ¶¶ 16-21; Session/Appointment Notes, App. 3 to Pl. Compl. The plaintiff was then forced to take a medical leave due to "exhaustion." The plaintiff's medical leave was effective April 23, 2004, pursuant to a letter from then-Associate Dean Walter Licht, which outlined the conditions for the plaintiff's return.*fn2

Compl. ¶¶ 18-19; App. 4 to Pl. Compl.

The plaintiff informed Penn of his intent to return on July 27, 2004. On August 27, 2004, the plaintiff received a letter from Penn informing him that the conditions for his return had not been met and a final decision was still pending. Compl. ¶¶ 30-31; App. 5 to Pl. Compl. Subsequently, on September 1, 2004, the plaintiff received a letter from Associate Dean Jack Nagel informing him that his request to return had been denied as the conditions had not been satisfied. App. 6 to Pl. Compl. In conjunction with the denial of his request, the plaintiff received a letter from Dr. William Alexander of CAPS, detailing the steps the plaintiff would need to take to return to Penn.

Dr. Alexander requested written documentation from a psychiatrist evidencing the plaintiff's stability. App. 7 to Pl. Compl.

Subsequently, the plaintiff visited both a psychologist and psychiatrist in Prague, who agreed that the plaintiff's treatment had been sufficient and that the plaintiff should return to Penn. Compl. ¶¶ 38-39; App. 1 to Pl. Compl. The plaintiff sent this information, including a final report by his psychologist, to Penn on December 1, 2004. Compl. ¶ 40. Nonetheless, Dr. Alexander sent the plaintiff a letter on December 22, 2004, indicating that the plaintiff had still not complied with the conditions for his return.*fn3 App. 8 to Pl. Compl. Finally, on January 4, 2005, Associate Dean Jack Nagel sent the plaintiff an e-mail indicating that the plaintiff had been dropped from the rolls and was no longer a Ph.D. student at Penn, in light of his failure to address his medical issues and the seeming unlikelihood of his doing so in the future. App. 10 to Pl. Compl. The plaintiff's appeals, culminating with Penn President Amy Gutmann, were denied. App. 11-13 to Pl. Compl.

Since the effective date of the plaintiff's medical leave in April of 2004, Penn has provided third parties with false references that have damaged the plaintiff. A separate lawsuit based on the defamatory references is pending in London. Compl. ¶¶ 45-46.

II. Analysis

The Court has both federal question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction over this case. Although the plaintiff checked only federal question jurisdiction in the civil cover sheet as the basis for his complaint, he alleges that he is a citizen of the Czech Republic and is seeking damages in excess of $75,000. Moreover, Penn is a citizen of Pennsylvania. Therefore, the Court has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

The defendant moves to dismiss Count I (breach of contract and negligence) in part, and Counts II through V in their entirety, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court will grant the motion to dismiss in part and deny it in part.

A. Federal Claims

The plaintiff brings three claims against Penn based on violations of federal law, alleging: (1) violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act ("HIPAA") and 42 U.S.C. § 290dd-2 (Count III); (2) violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Count IV); and (3) a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights (Count V). The Court will grant the motion to dismiss as to all federal claims.

1. Count III: Violation of HIPAA and § 290dd-2

In Count III of the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant violated the confidentiality provisions of HIPAA's Privacy Rule, 45 C.F.R. §§ 160, 164, and the patient confidentiality provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 290dd-2,*fn4 by disclosing information from the plaintiff's medical records both internally and to third parties, without his consent. The defendant argues that neither of ...


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