UVa Response to Medical Student First Amendment Lawsuit

Norman K. Moon Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

Jim Bacon reported April 8 on the claims of Kieran Ravi Bhattacharya, a former student at the University of Virginia Medical School, who alleges that he was retaliated against for exercising his First Amendment freedoms at a panel discussion by the University’s chapter of the American Medical Women’s Association (“AMWA”).

Senior Judge Norman K. Moon of the United States District Court Western District of Virginia in a memorandum opinion dated March 31, 2021, dismissed three of the four complaints but left in place the First Amendment allegation. 

Mr. Bacon offered the following cautions: 

“That ruling presents only one side of the story, Bhattacharya’s, and has to be considered in that light.”

“If Bhattacharya displayed a pattern of being loud, belligerent, and threatening, the actions taken against him conceivably might be justified.”

The defense Answer to the plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation allegation was filed yesterday.  

The University, represented by Assistant Virginia Attorneys General, asserts that Bhattacharya was dismissed from the School of Medicine not because of his actions at the panel discussion, but rather after a series of incidents and repeated instances of erratic behavior that raised security concerns as well as questions about his professionalism and fitness to practice medicine.  

The Defense further asserts that the University took action to protect the safety of the University community by banning him from the Grounds.

I will quote parts of the Answer here:

Defendants specifically deny that Plaintiff was retaliated against for the content of his questions and comments at the panel discussion. Defendants further aver that if Plaintiff is unable to pursue his chosen career in medicine, which Defendants do not admit, it is due to Plaintiff’s own actions and behaviors, and not due to his exercise of his First Amendment rights or the actions of Defendants. 

Defendants categorically deny ever attempting to silence or punish anyone for their views on microaggression and again deny the characterization of Dr. Rasmussen’s speech during the panel discussion. 

Defendants … deny that Plaintiff ever faced discipline because of the content of Plaintiff’s speech at the panel discussion. 

Defendants admit a November 26, 2018 email was sent from the Medical School directing Plaintiff to undergo a psychological evaluation before returning to class but deny that the email was related to or triggered by Plaintiff’s speech at the panel discussion. 

Instead, it was triggered by events including but not limited to: a November 14, 2018 meeting between Plaintiff and (Dean) John Densmore at which Plaintiff’s behavior was erratic and troubling, to the point that Dean Densmore was sufficiently concerned about Plaintiff’s health and welfare that he accompanied him to the University’s counseling center; Plaintiff’s involuntary admission to the hospital thereafter; a later meeting between Dean Densmore and Plaintiff during which Plaintiff’s behavior was extremely erratic, aggressive, and concerning, to the point that Dean Densmore had to call the police; another involuntary hospitalization of Plaintiff; and the issuance of a restraining order against Plaintiff with respect to his girlfriend, who was also a Medical School student. 

The Medical School could not in good conscience permit the return of a student who posed a potential threat to fellow students and faculty without further evaluation and information. 

Defendants further admit that, approximately one month later, upon consideration of all information available to it, the University’s Threat Assessment Team made a decision to issue a no trespass warning to Plaintiff for a four-year period, which resulted in an inability for him to appeal his suspension. Defendants categorically deny that the content of Plaintiff’s speech at the panel discussion caused Plaintiff’s suspension or ban from grounds. 

Defendants affirmatively aver that it was Plaintiff who was focused on his behavior at the panel discussion, refusing to discuss any of the other concerning behavior, of which he was well aware, to include his two hospitalizations, his interactions with Dean John Densmore, and the restraining order that his girlfriend obtained against him. 

The defense further denied all conspiracy allegations.

It requested the Court dismiss the action with prejudice and, failing that, demanded a jury trial.

The Defendants’ Answer, like the Plaintiff’s complaint, offer two sides of the same story. We now all await a response from Judge Moon and the results of any trial.

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3 years ago

Rather a different take on this, on a different set of facts. That is why we have deans and grant them administrative powers to make such determinations as when to suspend a student.