Halpern v. Wake Forest University Health Sciences, No. 10-2162

Decided Feb. 28, 2012

Ronen Halpern was dismissed from the Doctor of Medicine program at Wake Forest for excessive and prolonged “unprofessional behavior” attributed to ADHD and an indeterminate anxiety disorder. Prior to expulsion, Halpern asserted that he was aware of this behavioral problems and requested reasonable accommodations—specifically obtaining therapeutic treatment, participating in a distressed physicians program, and continuing as a student on strict probation—but insisted he was “otherwise qualified” to serve as a medical student and eventually a physician. After his expulsion from the program, Halpern brought suit under the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); however, summary judgment was awarded to the school. The district court found that Halpern was not “otherwise qualified” for the program because professionalism was a fundamental aspect of the school’s curriculum and training. Moreover, the district court found that the accommodations requested were not reasonable because of their uncertain duration and probability of success.

The Fourth Circuit affirmed. “In the context of a student excluded from an educational program, to prove a violation of either [the ADA or Rehabilitation Act], the plaintiff must establish that (1) he has a disability, (2) he is otherwise qualified to participate in the defendant’s program, and (3) he was excluded from the program on the basis of his disability.” The court held that given the importance of professionalism to the school’s program and Halpern’s inability to act accordingly, he was not “otherwise qualified” absent reasonable accommodations. Furthermore, the court held that Halpern’s request for accommodation was untimely because he committed so many offenses before providing the school with a diagnosis, unreasonable as overly burdensome and not certain to succeed, and unable to cure the cause of this dismissal because “‘misconduct—even misconduct related to a disability—is not itself a disability’ and may be a basis for dismissal.”

Full Opinion

-C. Alexander Cable

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