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Dr. Alexander Chi v. Loyola University Medical Center and Dr. Suneel Nagda

February 16, 2011

DR. ALEXANDER CHI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER AND DR. SUNEEL NAGDA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Dr. Alexander Chi has sued Loyola University Medical Center (Loyola Hospital) and Dr. Suneel Nagda for defamation, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), and negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). The Court has jurisdiction based on diversity of citizenship.

Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In considering the motion, the Court accepts the facts stated in the complaint as true and draws reasonable inferences in Dr. Chi's favor. Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police of Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir.2009). Dr. Chi is not required to make detailed factual allegations but must allege facts that "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

Dr. Chi alleges that he was employed at Loyola Hospital as a resident in its radiation oncology program from July 2005 through September 2009. Dr. Nagda is a physician and a medical professor at the hospital. Dr. Chi alleges that during his employment at the hospital, he was subjected to mistreatment by co-workers and supervisors and (among other things) was at one point placed on academic probation, allegedly for no good reason. He alleges that Dr. Nagda, in particular, was unjustifably hypercritical of him.

Dr. Chi alleges that he successfully completed his residency at Loyola in September 2009 and secured a position with University Medical Center (UMC) in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Chi was certified to practice radiation oncology but needed someone from Loyola Hospital to fill out a form confirming he had successfully completed the hospital's residency program and had shown "sufficient ability to practice competently and independently in his specialty." Compl. ¶ 32. Dr. Chi alleges that at this point, "Dr. Nagda knew that Dr. Chi had accepted the position and moved to Arizona." Id. ¶ 33.

On September 30, 2009, Dr. Nagda provided the necessary confirmation of Dr. Chi's ability to practice competently and independently by completing the form. Id. ¶32. Dr. Nagda also noted, as the form required, that Dr. Chi had been subject to academic probation, which Dr. Nagda said "successfully remediated" the issue involved. Defs.' Mem., Ex. C at 1. Dr. Nagda elaborated in a section of the form for "comments" that "Dr. Chi has had difficulties in interpersonal communication throughout his residency. While he has improved to a degree which I find acceptable, I am concerned that he may encounter difficulties in the future." Id. at 2.

The allegedly actionable conduct by Dr. Nagda and Loyola came in a second form that Dr. Nagda filled out the next day, October 1, 2009. The form, which Dr. Chi alleges that his new employer required, requested an evaluation of Dr. Chi on about two dozen parameters. Compl. ¶ 34. Dr. Nagda did not fill in this part of the form but instead wrote in, "Please see attached form," a reference to the September 30 form discussed above. The October 1 form also requested an "Overall Evaluation," to be provided by checking off one of the following six boxes:

- I recommend him/her as superior - I recommend him/her as above average - Recommend [sic] him/her as qualified & competent - I recommend him/her, but with some reservation - I cannot recommend him/her - A personal phone call would be preferred Defs.' Mem., Ex. D. Dr. Nagda checked off the box next to the phrase "I cannot recommend him/her." Id.; see Compl. ¶ 34.

Dr. Chi alleges that this was a "cheap shot" that caused him "tremendous emotional pain and suffering and public humiliation" and that it "had an immediate negative impact on Dr. Chi's' career and accompanying economic prospects." Compl. ¶

36. Specifically, Dr. Chi alleges that "[a]s a direct result of Dr. Nagda's actions, the University Medical Center reduced Dr. Chi's guaranteed credentials by a year, which has the effect of reducing Dr. Chi's guaranteed employment by a year." Id. ¶ 37. He also alleges that the statement constitutes "a large red flag to potential employers that they should look elsewhere." Id. ¶ 38. According to Dr. Chi, "[t]here is no reasonable way to interpret Dr. Nagda's decision to state that he could not fully recommend Dr. Chi just a day after declaring that he was qualified and competent other than as a maliciousattack on Dr. Chi." Id. ¶ 39.

Discussion

1. IIED claim

The Court starts with the IIED claim. Whether conduct is extreme or outrageous is judged on an objective standard. It exists if an average member of the community, upon learning of the acts, would be aroused to resent the actor and would be led to exclaim, "Outrageous." Id. at 392, 641 N.E.2d at 506-07. "Such conduct must be differentiated from the mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, petty oppressions, or other trivialities that are part of the costs of complex society from which the law provides no protection." Id. at 392, 641 N.E.2d at 507.

Defendants' motion assumes that Dr. Chi's IIED claim is premised just on Dr. Nagda's statements on the October 1, 2009 form. The reason is readily apparent: that is what Dr. Chi alleges in his complaint. See Compl. ΒΆ 55 ("By misrepresenting Dr. Chi's qualifications to his putative employer, Loyola and Dr. Nagda engaged in extreme and outrageous behavior . . . ."). In his response to the motion to dismiss, Dr. Chi gives a more expansive description of his IIED claim, saying that it covers the entirety of his treatment at ...


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