The Far-Reaching Implications of the Federal Case of a UVa Medical Student

by James C. Sherlock

This space has hosted commentary before on the case of KIERAN RAVI BHATTACHARYA, Plaintiff, v. JAMES B. MURRAY, et al., Defendants.

Mr. Murray is sued in his role as University of Virginia Rector.

This case relates to Bhattacharya’s suspension and dismissal from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in the fall of 2018 and his collateral treatment at the hands of the UVa police.

On October 25, 2018, Bhattacharya attended a panel discussion on “microaggressions” sponsored by the American Medical Women’s Association (“AMWA”) at UVA Medical School. A presentation was given by a Med School professor on her research on microaggressions. Bhattacharya openly, and the University contends aggressively, challenged that research.

(It makes me, and the legal system, wish the plaintiff had reacted similarly on a less politically charged topic.)

Thus began a spiral of actions that resulted in Bhattacharya being involuntarily committed to the psych ward at UVa hospital, being banned from the Grounds of the university, and being expelled from medical school.

But it is not nearly that simple, my conservative friends.

There are two basic interpretations of what has gone on between UVa medical school and Mr. Bhattacharya.

Bhattacharya’s sole remaining claim alleges that he was suspended from the medical school and banned from Grounds because the defendants wanted to “punish” the content of statements that he made at the AMWA panel in October 2018.

The University claims it was acting in a manner aligned with its undoubted responsibilities to ensure the safety of its staff and students and to graduate only physicians who have demonstrated the capability of self-control.

I have attached the most recent order in this case, a Memorandum Opinion and Order by Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe of the same court. who narrowed the scope of the plaintiff’s requests for production of documents and other discovery requests.

It is not the substance of that order, which is technical, but rather the Background section to which I direct readers’ attention.

Both claims, upon review of the background, will appear to the average citizen to  have some merit.

Certainly the university’s claims have merit if the judge finds that those undeniable responsibilities upon which we all depend were exercised without prejudice against the content of the plaintiff’s exercise of his free speech rights.

The question: was the university’s exercise of its responsibilities dispassionate, or linked to personal or political grievance?

That is why we have judges. And in this case the most distinguished federal district court judge in Virginia is on the bench.

In a case that appears to have national implications, the Senior Judge Norman K. Moon of the United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Charlottesville Division will rule on the case sometime this summer.

Based upon his extraordinary career as a jurist, Judge Moon is nationally respected.  I look forward to his decision, however he rules. I suspect his legal reasoning in this case will be quoted as precedent in the absolute tsunami of First Amendment cases that will come from new red flag laws.

But whatever he decides will tee up the culture wars, probably result in appeal, and have implications, at least in the minds of the public, for the passage and enforcement of such laws across the nation.

Dispassionate, or linked to personal or political grievance?

We should be thankful that it is Judge Moon deciding.

Updated July 8, 2022 at 8:37 AM