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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Cancer Researcher Can Fight Misconduct Penalty

WASHINGTON (CN) - A former St. Jude Children's Research Center biologist can contest charges that he manipulated two research papers, a federal judge ruled.

The children's hospital first started investigating postdoctoral fellow Philippe Bois in 2004 when he transferred departments. In a final report, the hospital found that Bois had intentionally engaged in research misconduct by falsifying or fabricating figures in two separate published articles.

After reviewing these findings, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services told Bois it planned to debar him for three years from "contracting, subcontracting and conducting non-procurement transactions with the federal government."

The notice said Bois could contest the debarment proposal with an administrative law judge.

When Bois requested a hearing - with supplementation so he could have access to his thousands of pages in notes - before an administrative law judge, he did not dispute many of the specific allegations. Instead, he denied that his actions were motivated by any dishonest intent.

The administrative law judge dismissed Bois' request for a hearing, leading Bois to file suit.

U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson ruled last week that dismissal of the hearing request was arbitrary and capricious.

"For the most part, the amended decision at issue in this case was a reasoned, supportable determination," wrote Judge Jackson on the law judge's ruling. "But ultimately, the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision was arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion because it did not directly address, and it failed to specify the reasons why it rejected, factual claims advanced by Dr. Bois in support of his affirmative defense of honor error."

Denying Bois' request for a hearing violated the Administrative Procedures Act, Jackson found, vacating the three-year debarment.

"This is not intended to suggest that ORI will not be able to meet its burden at a hearing; it just means that there should be a hearing," concluded the judge.

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