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Essex County, NJ

In this case, the plaintiff fourth year dental student, enrolled at the defendant UMDNJ, contended that following a minor incident in which a clinic patient suffered a laceration to the lip during drilling, the defendant violated his rights under the NJ Constitution and his 14th Amendment procedural rights by expelling him without a proper hearing. The plaintiff also contended that his substantive rights were violated because the sanction of expulsion for this minor incident was unwarranted and extremely draconian compared with sanctions previously given other students, including students admitting to cheating, who were given reprimands. The plaintiff, who had already been accepted into a post graduate periodontal program in another state, contended that his attempts at being accepted by another dental school were unsuccessful, that he will never be able to be a dentist and that he has moved to Israel, pursuing a much less lucrative career in the computer/biology field. The plaintiff also made a claim for emotional distress.

The plaintiff maintained that as he drilling the patient’s tooth under the supervision of a faculty member, the laceration occurred. The plaintiff pointed out that the faculty member had described the incident as involving minor abrasions only. The plaintiff contended that the professor was not satisfied with the plaintiff’s entries in the chart and required him to resubmit the chart several times. The plaintiff maintained that the faculty member then asked him three times if he had cut a patient in the past.

The plaintiff related that he honestly answered no the first two times he was asked, but then thought that the professor might have been referring to normal bleeding when performing simple procedures. The plaintiff then told the professor that he had done so in the past. The plaintiff contended that based upon this information, he was cited with major violations, which the plaintiff established are defined by the defendant’s rules as seriously jeopardizing a patient’s safety.

The plaintiff maintained that there was no good faith basis for such charges. The plaintiff’s prior attorney met with school officials and the plaintiff contended that the attorney was advised that the defendant’s real problems with the plaintiff had more to do with attitudinal issues than dental skills. The prior attorney testified that he was advised that if the plaintiff simply admitted his mistakes and also submitted a narrative explaining the reasons he understood the criticisms of him, it was likely that the matter would resolve favorably for the plaintiff after the hearing. The plaintiff submitted the narrative.

The plaintiff was not permitted to be represented by counsel at the hearing, in which he agreed with the charges of failing to follow a faculty member’s instructions. The plaintiff maintained that although he believed he was responding only to the minor incident, the charges also included criticisms of one of his professors some months earlier, not previously brought up in the context of the subject dispute, in which the professor had complained to him that he did not follow the appropriate procedures when placing a dental "dam" in a patient’s mouth to protect adjoining structures from injury while the plaintiff was drilling one tooth.

The plaintiff contended that this professor was difficult to understand because of a language barrier and that he did the procedure in accordance with the manner he had previously been taught. The plaintiff contended that although he believed that this prior incident was not thought of as significant, the defendant cited the history as one of the factors justifying the vote to expel him following the hearing. The defendant contended that the plaintiff’s rights were not violated.

The plaintiff maintained that after he was expelled, he attempted to apply to different dental schools to resume his career, but no school would admit him or even grant him an interview because of the disciplinary history. The plaintiff related that had similar results when he applied to both medical schools and schools for pharmacy. The plaintiff related that ultimately, he moved to Israel and is pursuing graduate studies in biology and computer sciences.

The plaintiff’s vocational expert maintained that because of the projected difference in earnings, the plaintiff suffered discounted economic losses of $________. The defendant contended that when taking into account cost of living issues, and the amount a periodontist in Israel would be expected to earn, the disparity does not exceed $________.

The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded $________ for economic loss and $________ for emotional distress.

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