(CN) - A medical student's DUI conviction and reputation for butt-grabbing was enough to expel him from Case Western Reserve University, the 6th Circuit ruled.
Amir Al-Dabagh was scheduled to graduate the Cleveland-based medical school in 2014.
He did well in his classes, received recommendation letters praising his "academic excellence," and won an award for "Honors with Distinction in Research," according to the Thursday ruling from the federal appeals court in Cincinnati.
From the start of Al-Dabagh's medical school career, however, he garnered complaints from professors and students about his professionalism.
One instructor claimed that Al-Dabagh asked him to lie about his frequent tardiness, and a female student accused Al-Dabagh of grabbing her butt at a school-sponsored formal dance. The same night of the ball, a police incident report stated that Al-Dabagh jumped out of a moving taxi to avoid paying his fare.
The Committee on Students in turn had Al-Dabagh undergo "an intervention on professionalism," and threatened to dismiss him if it happened again.
Al-Dabagh also did very poorly in his internal medicine internship. Nurses repeatedly complained about his demeanor, and a patient's family once kicked him out of the room.
The committee ordered Al-Dabagh to repeat the internship and enroll in "gender-specific training." The addendum that the committee added to Al-Dabagh's letter of recommendation for residency programs was also the first time it had taken such measures taken in 25 years.
Al-Dabagh had already been invited to graduate when the school learned in April 2014 that he had been convicted in North Carolina for driving while intoxicated. Case Western unanimously refused to certify him for graduation and dismissed him from the university.
Though the school later offered to let Al-Dabagh voluntarily withdraw, leaving him free to apply to another medical school without a dismissal on his record, Al-Dabagh refused and instead filed suit in Cleveland, alleging that the denial of his degree amounted to bad faith.
A federal judge found for Al-Dabagh, but the 6th Circuit reversed Wednesday.
"Professionalism has been a part of the doctor's role since at least ancient Greece," Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote for the three-judge panel.
Case Western's curriculum identifies nine core competencies, of which professionalism is No. 1, the court noted. Medical knowledge is ranked at No. 5.
The school's handbook defines professionalism as "consistently demonstrate[ing] ethical, honest, responsible and reliable behavior," which involves "recognize[ing] personal limitations and biases and find ways to overcome them."
Case Western's curricular choice should not be questioned, as "anyone who has ever been to a doctor's office knows the value of a good bedside manner," Sutton wrote.
Therefore, "whether we take our cue from Case Western's curriculum, the student handbook contract between the student and university, the Supreme Court, the Ohio cases, our own cases, or cases from other circuits, the conclusion is the same: The Committee's professionalism determination is an academic judgment," the decision states. "That conclusion all but resolves this case."
As an academic judgment, the committee's decision is entitled to due deference, and may only be overturned if it substantially departs from academic norms, according to the ruling.
"Given Al-Dabagh's track record - one member of the committee does not recall encountering another student with Al-Dabagh's 'repeated professionalism issues' in his quarter century of experience - we cannot see how it did," Sutton wrote.
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