Landmark Win in Scientific Misconduct Case

Faced with Office of Research Integrity (ORI) allegations of scientific misconduct and the resulting debarment order issued by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a prominent research scientist turned to our attorneys to protect his reputation and his eligibility for future federal funding of his research.

The case was particularly challenging in that although an accused scientist has a legal right to appeal a finding of research misconduct and seek a hearing before an HHS ALJ, although, ALJs had denied such hearing requests in every instance. Since 2005, when ORI amended its regulations to replace the adjudicating body previously comprised of scientists that had adjudicated scientific misconduct cases with a single, nonscientist decision-maker in an ALJ. Like every other hearing request since that change, the first request for a hearing was also denied. The HHS ALJ issued a formal debarment order that prohibited the scientist from receiving further federal funding for any of his research.

Our attorneys presented a strong case before United States District Court for the District of Columbia that convinced the court to overturn the HHS’s debarment order and require HHS to hold a hearing at which the research scientist could defend himself against the allegations. According to the court, the ALJ’s decision to deny the plaintiff’s hearing request was “arbitrary and capricious” because, among other things, the ALJ did not seriously consider the factual questions the plaintiff raised in his hearing request and failed to set forth her grounds for rejecting the scientist’s version of events. The court considered these failures by the ALJ along with HHS’s continued decision to deny the plaintiff access to his laboratory notebooks.

The court’s overturning of the ALJ’s debarment decision enabled the scientist to resume applying for federal funding for his research projects and ensured that he would be the first scientist under the new regulations to receive a hearing at which he can defend himself against ORI charges of research misconduct.

To review a copy of the court’s decision click here.