Psychiatric resident who allegedly had inappropriate relationship with patient loses appeal against medical board

By Elizabeth Young | Apr 10, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District has upheld a district court’s ruling in the case of a Texas physician who was refused a certificate from the Texas Medical Board after allegedly engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a patient.

Roderick Ekmark originally filed suit against doctors Kenneth Matthews and Lois Bready, claiming  they violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by denying him a hearing before refusing to grant him a certification in psychiatry. A district court granted summary judgment to Matthews and Bready and Ekmark appealed.

Matthews was the program director for the Psychiatric Residency Program at the University of Texas–Health Sciences Center at San Antonio where Ekmark was a resident. Bready oversaw the University’s entire medical education program. As a resident, Ekmark was required to provide clinical care at the University Hospital and Veterans Affairs facilities.

During the fall of Ekmark’s final year as a resident, an acquaintance informed Bready that Ekmark had admitted to an inappropriate relationship with a VA Hospital patient. The University immediately suspended Ekmark’s patient care duties and launched an investigation.

Ekmark denied the allegations, but the Texas Medical Board suspended Ekmark’s physician-in-training permit. The VA began its own investigation and concluded that the allegations were “more likely true than not” and revoked Ekmark’s privileges at all VA facilities.

As a result Ekmark did not complete his clinical duties, including his rotations at the VA, and did not receive his psychiatry certification. He requested a formal grievance hearing, but never received one.

The Fifth Circuit agreed with the lower court that Ekmark received sufficient process. In a per curiam opinion Circuit Judges Jerry Edwin Smith, Edward C. Prado and Stephen Higginson pointed out that Ekmark had no protected property interest in his certification and was not entitled under the Fourteenth Amendment to a formal grievance hearing.

Medical residents are considered students rather than employees of a hospital and “his inability to complete the program furnished a sound academic basis for the denial of certification.”

The court affirmed that district court’s order of a summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Case No. 12-50808.

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