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Cyrena Chang Paulin v. the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health

July 23, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler United States District Judge


Plaintiff, Cyrena Chang Paulin ("Paulin"), brings this action against the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences ("the University") for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief and compensatory damages. This matter is presently before the Court on the School's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) [Dkt. No. 3]. Upon consideration of the Motion, Opposition, Reply, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons set forth below, the School's Motion to dismiss is denied.


A. Factual Background*fn1

Ms. Paulin is a former student in the Physician Assistant degree program ("PA program") at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. By August of 2010, Paulin had completed every requirement for graduation from the PA program except for the final clinical preceptorship*fn2 and the program's final cumulative exam. Up until that point, Paulin had maintained a 3.27 cumulative GPA (approximately a B).

Paulin, unlike most of her classmates, was not permitted to select her final preceptorship, but was assigned to an Internal Medicine group. She was later removed from this group because of insufficient medical knowledge and interpersonal problems with her supervisors. Paulin was subsequently dismissed from the PA program and failed to graduate.

From her first day, Paulin experienced difficulties communicating and interacting with the Internal Medicine group. For instance, Daren Harper, the PA who led the teaching team for the first week, did not provide Paulin with any preliminary instructions and did not make any preparations for her arrival. Paulin was repeatedly criticized by preceptors in the Internal Medicine group despite the fact that they had never witnessed her examine or treat a patient. As a result, Paulin was isolated from the rest of the group and her attempts to lodge formal complaints with the School were rebuked.

On September 1, 2010, Liz Blomenberg, a PA in the Internal Medicine group, removed Paulin from her rotation. Blomenberg reported to her supervisor, PA Stacey Jonas-Keeling, that she lacked the ability to teach Paulin because of ongoing interpersonal difficulties. This decision was made notwithstanding the fact that the Internal Medicine group did not highlight any areas for improvement in Paulin's August 20, 2010, evaluation. In another evaluation, one week later, on August 27, 2010, she was rated as average or below average. As a result of her removal from the Internal Medicine group, Paulin failed her clinical rotation. She was not permitted to retake this rotation and was recommended for dismissal in accordance with University policy.

On September 6, 2010, Blomenberg sent an e-mail to Jonas-Keeling detailing Paulin's lack of foundational medical knowledge and her inability to appreciate constructive criticism. On September 13, 2010, Harper issued a new evaluation of Paulin that was markedly more negative than her previous evaluations.

On September 8, 2010, Dr. Venetia Orcutt, director of the PA program, informed Paulin that unidentified individuals had recommended to the Interim Associate Dean of the Health Sciences Program, Dr. Margaret Plack, that Paulin be removed from the PA program. Paulin, pursuant to University policy, submitted to Dr. Plack a petition appealing the failing grade and the recommendation for dismissal.

An Information Gathering Subcommittee ("IGS") was organized to hear Paulin's appeal. The Subcommittee was comprised of "several physical therapists and one research professor" but no physicians or physician assistants. The IGS did not speak to any of the persons Paulin asked to be interviewed, nor did the Subcommittee review any of Paulin's patient progress notes. The IGS also did not provide Paulin with representation throughout the process. In addition, the report issued by the IGS contained multiple factual errors about Paulin's academic record. During the nine-month appeals process, Paulin solicited letters of recommendation from her fellow students and instructors until the University instructed the professors to refuse those requests.

After the IGS issued its summary report affirming Paulin's failed preceptorship, Dr. Plack recommended to Dr. Jeffery Akman, the Interim Dean of the Medical School, that Paulin be dismissed from the PA program. Dr. Akman reviewed the case and upheld Dr. Plack's recommendation. Paulin was dismissed from the PA program on April 28, 2011.

In her Complaint, Paulin claims that the University breached the terms and conditions of her enrollment by placing her in a preceptorship with an untrained, untested, and disorganized team which had never before precepted any rotation; by giving her a failing grade without following "normal" grading policies; by failing to request and review patient progress notes in accordance with the University's grading policy; by determining her grade in an arbitrary and capricious manner; and by holding her to different academic standards than other similarly situated students.

Paulin further alleges that the University breached its implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing by making it impossible for her to realize the benefit of her contract and ...

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