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National Resident Matching Program v. Alashry

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 27, 2018




         Having denied Plaintiff National Resident Matching Program's (“NRMP's”) motion to remand, Dkt. 7, the Court turns to NRMP's motion to vacate the arbitration award in favor of Defendant Mahmoud Alashry (“Dr. Alashry”), Dkt. 10, and Dr. Alashry's cross-motion to confirm, Dkt. 6. The present dispute presents a narrow issue: Did the arbitrator exceed his authority under the parties' agreement when he vacated the sanctions against Dr. Alashry? The Court concludes that he did not, and will, accordingly, deny NRMP's motion to vacate, Dkt. 10, and grant Dr. Alashry's cross-motion to confirm, Dkt. 6.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Because the facts of this case are set forth in the Court's prior opinion, see Nat'l Resident Matching Prog. v. Alashry, No. 17-cv-2557, slip op. at 1-4 (D.D.C. Sept. 26, 2018) (“Alashry I”), the Court will only briefly summarize the relevant background before turning to the arbitrator's decision itself.

         Dr. Alashry is a citizen of Egypt, where he earned his medical degree. Id. at 1-2. In 2014, he began a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Id. at 2. NRMP is a non-profit organization that provides a service by which it matches medical school students and graduates with positions in graduate medical residency and fellowship programs. Id. at 1. From mid-January to late February of each year, applicants submit their “rank order lists of preferred programs” to NRMP, and “program directors rank applicants in order of preference for training.” Dkt. 10-2 at 40 (Arb. Award ¶ 23). NRMP then “uses a computerized mathematical algorithm to match applicants with programs using the preferences expressed on their rank lists.” Id. (emphasis omitted).

         In September 2015, Dr. Alashry registered to participate in the 2016 Main Residency Match. Id. at 44 (Arb. Award ¶ 29). “By the February 24, 2016 deadline, Dr. Alashry completed and submitted his . . . rank order list, ” and, in doing so, he “committed to accept an appointment if a match resulted.” Id. at 45 (Arb. Award ¶ 32). On February 22, 2016-before his match date-Dr. Alashry was arrested in Minnesota for solicitation of prostitution, although he was not detained or charged at that time. Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 33). Less than a month later, on March 18, 2016, he matched to the internal medicine residency program at North Florida Regional Medical Center (“NFRMC”). Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 34). Before he could matriculate, however, Dr. Alashry was criminally charged with solicitation of prostitution on April 1, 2016. Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 35). Meanwhile, NFRMC had forwarded an email to Dr. Alashry indicating that he had not yet completed his application to obtain the required J-1 training visa, and, on May 17, 2016, NFRMC sent him a further email. Id. at 45-46 (Arb. Award ¶¶ 36, 38). On May 16, 2016, Dr. Alashry appeared for his arraignment and, at that time, he learned that his hearing on the criminal charges would not take place until July 5, 2016, after the start of the residency program. Id. at 46 (Arb. Award ¶ 37). Presumably left without other options, Dr. Alashry disclosed “the pending charges” to NFRMC on May 23, 2016. Id. at 46 (Arb. Award ¶ 39). In completing “an [NFRMC] Application Affirmation form” that same day, however, Dr. Alashry responded “no” to the question whether any criminal charges were pending against him. Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 40).

         After learning of the criminal charge, NFRMC concluded that Dr. Alashry would not be able to obtain a J-1 training visa before his June 2016 start date, and it therefore sought a waiver from NRMP of its match. Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 42). NRMP granted the waiver and, subsequently, convened a review panel to investigate whether Dr. Alashry's actions violated the agreement he signed with NRMP (“Match Agreement”). Id. at 46-47 (Arb. Award ¶¶ 42, 44-45). The panel issued a report (“Panel Report”) concluding that Dr. Alashry's failure to promptly disclose his arrest and criminal charge had violated the Match Agreement, and, the panel imposed a series of sanctions against him. Id. at 47 (Arb. Award ¶¶ 46-47). The sanctions included (1) “notifying [NFRMC] of [his] violation and asking that it become part of his permanent record;” (2) a one-year bar “from accepting or starting a position in any program sponsored by a Match-participating institution;” (3) a two-year bar “from participating in future NRMP matches;” and (4) a two-year flag “as a Match violator in the NRMP's Registration, Ranking, and Results . . . system.” Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 47).

         In September 2016, Dr. Alashry initiated arbitration proceedings to vacate the panel's findings of a violation and imposition of sanctions. Id. at 37 (Arb. Award ¶ 7). The sole arbitrator, Elliot E. Polebaum, found in Dr. Alashry's favor in most, although not all, respects. See Id. at 59 (Arb. Award ¶¶ 89-94). After considering the parties' evidence, witness testimony, and post-trial briefing, the arbitrator issued a twenty-six-page decision finding the sanctions against Dr. Alashry arbitrary and capricious, and, accordingly, vacating them. Dkt. 10-2 at 36- 61 (Arb. Award). The present dispute concerns whether, in doing so, the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority.

         NRMP argued in its pre-arbitration hearing brief that Dr. Alashry violated section 4.4 of the Match Agreement “in multiple respects.” Id. at 49 (Arb. Award ¶ 52). First, “[NRMP] maintain[ed] that Dr. Alashry failed to provide complete[, ] timely, and accurate information during the match process . . . both after his arrest on February 22, 2016, and again after his receipt of a summons and complaint on April 1, 2016.” Id. Second, “[NRMP] . . . contend[ed] that Dr. Alashry's submission to NFRMC of his Applicant Affirmation form, with a ‘no' answer to the question whether there were any ‘criminal charges now pending' against him independently violated [s]ection 4.4.” Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 54). Finally, NRMP argued that “Dr. Alashry's conduct violated [s]ection 1 of the Agreement which requires all participants in the Main Residency Match [to] conduct their affairs in an ethical manner.” Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 55) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         With respect to the question of violation, the arbitrator concluded that Dr. Alashry did violate section 4.4 of the Match Agreement, but only to the extent that he “delay[ed] until May 23 in disclosing the criminal charge[], ” even though he had received the summons and complaint on April 1. Id. at 55 (Arb. Award ¶ 77). The arbitrator disagreed with NRMP that Dr. Alashry had a duty to disclose his arrest before he was charged, however, because he found that “there was no guidance in the NRMP application directing an applicant to disclose any police detention that had not yet resulted in criminal charges.” Id. at 52 (Arb. Award ¶ 66). The arbitrator also concluded that Dr. Alashry did not violate section 4.4 when he erroneously indicated there were “no” pending criminal charges against him on the Applicant Affirmation Form because “there is no doubt that Dr. Alashry's May 23, 2016, email and his subsequent phone call with . . . the NFRMC Program Director, made clear that there were.” Id. at 56 (Arb. Award ¶ 79). Finally, the arbitrator noted that Dr. Alashry's alleged violation of section 1 was not subject to his review because it was not included in the Panel Report. Id. at 59 (Arb. Award ¶ 87). In conclusion, the arbitrator concluded that, “[i]nsofar as NRMP's findings of violations rested on the circumstances set forth . . . above, they are in violation of the [Match] Agreement, and are vacated.” Id. at 59 (Arb. Award ¶ 87).

         With respect to the sanctions, the arbitrator found that all four measures were “arbitrary and capricious”:

The sanctions NRMP imposed were for Dr. Alashry's [failure to notify NFRMC about his] “legal issues.” There is no explication in the Review Panel Report whether each claimed violation of Section 4.4 comprising the “legal issues” was necessary to the overall level of sanctions imposed or whether the fact of delay in disclosure after April 1 only, would have supported the same or any sanctions. Given the lack of clarity in the Review Panel Report, the testimony of NRMP witnesses in conflict with the report, NRMP's failure to consider Dr. Alashry's email and oral reports to Dr. Yale disclosing his pending criminal charges, and my determination that the violations found by NRMP are in important respects not sustainable, the sanctions imposed are arbitrary and capricious . . . .

Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 88). Accordingly, the Final Award held that “[t]he sanctions determined in the Review Panel Report for violations of [s]ection 4.4 of the Agreement . . . are therefore vacated.” Id. (Arb. Award ¶ 91).

         Dissatisfied with the result, NRMP filed a motion to vacate in the D.C. Superior Court, alleging that the Match Agreement did not permit an arbitrator to vacate its sanctions, Dkt. 10-1; Dkt. 10-2, and Dr. Alashry removed the case to this Court, Dkt. 1 at 4-7. The parties ...

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