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Phoebe Maxwell-Calvin v. Wright State University

September 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Alan C. Travis

Cite as Maxwell-Calvin v. Wright State Univ.,

The Ohio Judicial Center 65 South Front Street, Third Floor Columbus, OH 43215 614.387.9800 or 1.800.824.8263


{¶1} Plaintiff brought this action alleging breach of contract, civil conspiracy, intentional and/or negligent infliction of emotional distress, and false light invasion of privacy.*fn1 The issues of liability and damages were bifurcated and the case proceeded to trial on the issue of liability. The court finds the following facts from the evidence presented at trial.

{¶2} In August 1998, plaintiff enrolled as a student at defendant's school of medicine. Plaintiff was provided with a copy of the student policy guide, and was required to sign a form acknowledging that she had read pages 7-14 thereof prior to attending the "Dean's Hour" on August 19, 1998. (Plaintiff's Exhibit B.) On page 11 of the student policy guide, under the heading, "IMPORTANT! U.S.M.L.E." it states: "You must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step I before beginning Year 4 and Step II before graduation. * * * The USMLE Step I exam is first offered in June of Year 2. You must pass the exam within 15 months of the first offering of the completion of Year 2. By taking the June exam, you will have as many as four attempts to pass within the 15-month restriction. * * * The USMLE Step II exam is offered in August and March of Year 4. You must take the August exam if you are scheduled to graduate in June the following calendar year. * * * You must pass USMLE Step II within two years of completing Year 4 course requirements. Failure to pass within the designated time period will result in a recommendation for dismissal to the Dean by the Student Promotions Committee." (Emphasis added.)

{¶3} Plaintiff passed Step I of the USMLE on her fourth attempt. Due to the length of time it took her to pass Step I, plaintiff's expected graduation date changed from June 2002 to June 2003.

{¶4} In April 2002, the Ethical Standards Committee met to review allegations that plaintiff had plagiarized material for an assignment in her internal medicine clerkship. After a hearing on the matter, plaintiff received a grade of "F" for the clerkship, a letter was placed in her permanent academic file, and she was required to re-take the internal medicine clerkship.

{¶5} In September 2002, plaintiff took the Step II USMLE exam, but she did not pass it at that time. In March 2003, plaintiff was notified that she had been accepted as an internal medicine resident at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine (UTCM). Plaintiff's residency was to begin after her graduation.

{¶6} In April 2003, the Ethical Standards Committee met again to review allegations of plaintiff's unprofessional behavior during her second internal medicine clerkship. After a hearing, the committee concluded that plaintiff's absences and her failure to provide appropriate notification thereof constituted a lack of professionalism. As a result of those findings, the committee required plaintiff to complete one additional month of an internal medicine clerkship, placed a letter in her permanent academic file, notified her residency director that she did not meet the professional standards expected of her in the clerkship, and required her to seek professional counseling.

{¶7} On May 28, 2003, plaintiff took the Step II exam again. Even though plaintiff had neither completed her clerkship nor obtained a passing score for the Step II exam, defendant permitted plaintiff to participate in the graduation ceremonies which were held on June 6, 2003. Plaintiff's name was listed as a graduate in the program, she was permitted to "walk" in the ceremony, and she signed her name in a book as a graduate with the notation "M.D." However, plaintiff was not awarded a diploma at the ceremony.

{¶8} On July 29, 2003, after having completed an additional month of the clerkship, plaintiff went to the Office of Admissions and Student Affairs to obtain her diploma. However, Joyce Baver, who was the administrative assistant for Paul Carlson, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Admissions, informed plaintiff that before she could give plaintiff her diploma, she needed to verify that all of plaintiff's grades had been received and that there were no "holds" on her record. After Baver checked plaintiff's file, she informed plaintiff that the office had not received the results from her May 28, 2003 Step II exam. Baver telephoned the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and was informed that plaintiff's scores had not been released because she owed the NBME $75. Plaintiff also spoke to a representative from the NBME while she was in the office with Baver. Plaintiff then left the office without her diploma.

{¶9} Plaintiff began her residency at UTCM in August 2003. On September 30, 2003, Dr. Carlson contacted James Lewis, Jr., M.D., the program director for internal medicine at UTCM, to notify him that plaintiff had not received a diploma and that defendant had no record of plaintiff's USMLE Step II score. On October 8, 2003, the NBME received payment from plaintiff of the $75 balance on her account. On October 15, 2003, the NBME released plaintiff's scores from the May 28, 2003 Step II exam, which showed that she had failed. On October 24, 2003, Dr. Carlson notified Dr. Lewis that plaintiff had failed the USMLE Step II exam and that she was not an M.D. Plaintiff was relieved of her duties at UTCM shortly thereafter.

{¶10} On January 22, 2004, the Ethical Standards Committee met to review the circumstances leading up to and including plaintiff's work as a physician in UTCM's internal medicine program prior to graduating from defendant's school of medicine. The allegations included that she had worked as a physician during the months of August, September, and October despite knowing that she had neither passed the Step II exam nor received her diploma; that she had falsely told Baver on July 29, 2003, that she had received her scores from the NBME even though her scores had not been released; that she had told Dr. Lewis that she had received a passing score on the Step II exam; and that she continued working as a physician at UTCM after having received official notice from the NBME in October that she had failed the Step II exam. After a hearing, the Ethical Standards Committee recommended that plaintiff be dismissed from defendant's school of medicine. Plaintiff exhausted the appeals process which included a review of the recommendation of dismissal by the Appeals Committee, the Dean, and the Provost; however, her dismissal was upheld at every level.

{ΒΆ11} Plaintiff asserts that defendant committed a breach of contract when it dismissed her from medical school. Plaintiff contends that a successful score on Step II of the USMLE was not required for graduation and that defendant's interference in her residency in Tennessee and subsequent failure to allow her to sit for the Step II exam a third time was a breach of contract. Plaintiff argues that pursuant to the student policy guide, she was permitted to obtain a passing score on the Step II exam within two years from the date of completion of the Year 4 requirements. Plaintiff also alleges ...

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