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Uzelmeier v. United States Dep't of Health and Human Services

March 31, 2008

REBECCA UZELMEIER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman United States District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff Rebecca Uzelmeier filed this lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 701 et seq., seeking judicial review of the decision of the United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity ("ORI") to debar her from being a contractor with the federal government for a period of five years, and seeking disclosure of documents under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a. See Compl. at 1-2. This matter is before the Court on the defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment and plaintiff's cross motion for partial summary judgment.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

In 1999, plaintiff Rebecca Uzelmeier (née Marcus) was a Ph.D. candidate at Michigan State University ("MSU") in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, under the supervision of Professor Norbert Kaminski. See Compl. ¶ 9; Defs' SMF ¶ 1. On July 26, 1999, Professor Kaminski raised allegations of scientific misconduct against Ms. Uzelmeier. See Defs' SMF ¶ 2; see Pl's SMF ¶ 3. The university launched an investigation shortly thereafter. See Pl's SMF ¶ 4.

On March 17, 2000, MSU issued a "Report of Assessment of an Allegation of Misconduct in Research Against Ms. Rebecca Marcus, Ph.D. Student, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology" recommending that MSU proceed to an Inquiry. See Defs' SMF ¶ 7.

On September 18, 2000, an MSU Inquiry Panel found that the evidence was "sufficient, credible, and of such merit that an Investigative Committee could reasonably conclude that Misconduct occurred, and that an Investigation is therefore warranted." Def's SMF ¶ 8. In its final report dated March 5, 2002, the MSU Investigative Committee found that Ms. Uzelmeier had committed misconduct in research. See Defs' SMF ¶ 9.

In a Charge Letter dated September 6, 2006, the Office of Research Integrity within the United States Department of Health and Human Services notified Ms. Uzelmeier of its proposed findings of misconduct in science against her based upon the MSU Report and additional analysis and information obtained by ORI during its oversight review of the MSU Report. See Defs' SMF ¶ 10; see also Exh. 3 to Defs' Mot, September 6, 2006 Letter from ORI to Uzelmeier. Based upon ORI's findings of research misconduct, the HHS debarring official proposed to debar plaintiff from eligibility for any contracting or subcontracting with any federal agency and from any eligibility for or involvement in certain nonprocurement programs -- defined by the regulations as "covered transactions" -- for a period of five years, unless plaintiff contested the proposed findings of misconduct in science and accompanying administrative actions by requesting an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge. See Exh. 3 to Defs' Mot, September 6, 2006 Letter from ORI to Uzelmeier at 2-3.

On September 14, 2006, pursuant to the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(d), Ms. Uzelmeier requested that HHS provide her with a copy of "all documents referenced in the charge against Rebecca Uzelmeier, dated September 6, 2006, but which were not attached to said charge." Pl's SMF ¶ 41. On September 19, 2006, Ms. Uzelmeier asked HHS to provide her with a copy of "the complete administrative record relied upon by the HHS as the basis for filing the debarment charge against Rebecca Uzelmeier[.]" Pl's SMF ¶ 42. Plaintiff alleges that "HHS presently has these records in its possession, but has refused to comply with either of [her] requests for copies of her records. [She] has never received a copy of the administrative record relied upon by HHS to support its debarment action." Pl's SMF ¶ 43.*fn2

On October 11, 2006, Ms. Uzelmeier filed a request for hearing to contest ORI's proposed findings of misconduct and proposed debarment. See Defs' SMF ¶ 11; see also Exh. 5 to Defs' Mot., Request for Hearing. On October 19, 2006, ORI filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's request for hearing, alleging that Ms. Uzelmeier failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact or law that could be properly addressed in a hearing. See Defs' SMF ¶ 12; see also Exh. 6 to Defs' Mot., Motion to Dismiss Respondent's Hearing Request With Prejudice. On October 30, 2006, plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss HHS's proposed debarment and a request to supplement her request for a hearing under 42 C.F.R. § 93.501(d). See Pl's SMF ¶¶ 48, 51. On November 9, 2006, plaintiff filed an opposition to ORI's motion to dismiss her hearing request. See Defs' SMF ¶ 13; see also Exh. 7 to Defs' Mot., Mrs. Uzelmeier's Opposition to Dismiss Respondent's Hearing Request.

In a decision dated March 5, 2007, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") at HHS determined that Ms. Uzelmeier's request for a hearing did not raise a genuine dispute of fact or law and, as a result, dismissed her hearing request. See Defs' SMF ¶ 14; see also Exh. 2 to Defs' Mot., Dismissal of Respondent Uzelmeier's Hearing Request ("Hearing Request Dismissal"). The ALJ did not rule on plaintiff's motion to dismiss HHS's proposed debarment and request to supplement her original request for hearing. See Pl's SMF ¶ 53. Based upon the denial of the hearing request, ORI's proposed findings of research misconduct and the HHS Debarring Official's proposed five-year debarment of Ms. Uzelmeier became final, effective March 12, 2007. See Defs' SMF ¶ 15; see also Exh. 1 to Defs' Mot., March 27, 2007 Notice of Administrative Actions. Specifically, the ORI found that plaintiff "committed misconduct in science by intentionally and knowingly fabricating and falsifying data in research supported by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH)[.]" Exh. 1 to Defs' Mot., March 27, 2007 Notice of Administrative Actions.

Ms. Uzelmeier withdrew from the University in 1999 and has not received a Ph.D or any other science-related degree. See Pl's SMF ¶ 27. She works as a financial analyst and is not a federal government contractor. See Pl's SMF ¶¶ 28, 31. She asserts that she has no intention of returning to the sciences or working on any project sponsored by or paid for by the federal government. See Pl's SMF ¶¶ 30, 32, 34.

II. DEBARMENT

A. Legal Framework

1. Summary ...


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