One Beacon Street
Suite 1320
Boston, MA 02108

T 617.598.6700
F 617.720.5092


One Richmond Sq.
Suite 165W
Providence, RI 02906
T 401.454.0400
F 401.454.0404

Landmark ruling in scientific misconduct case

Barrett & Singal Attorneys Win Landmark Ruling in Scientific Misconduct Case
When research scientists are accused of scientific misconduct by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI), they have a legal right to appeal and seek an adjudicatory hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to clear their name. Since 2005, ALJs have, without exception, denied every such hearing request by a scientist. That may now change as a result of a recent decision by a federal judge in Washington, D.C. in a lawsuit involving a research scientist represented by Barrett & Singal’s Litigation Department.

On March 2, 2012, United States District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued a written opinion and order vacating a Debarment Order imposed by HHS on a research scientist, and remanding the case back to HHS for a hearing on the merits. ORI sought to debar the scientist because it claimed he had committed research misconduct. Under HHS regulations, the scientist challenged the debarment and requested a formal adjudicatory hearing. However, the ALJ denied his request for a hearing and HHS thereafter issued a formal Debarment Order which prohibited the scientist from receiving any further federal funding for any of his research. The scientist sued HHS in U.S. District Court, asking a federal judge to overturn its Debarment Order, and to require HHS to hold a hearing at which the plaintiff could defend himself against the allegations and try to clear his name.

After a thorough review of HHS’s actions, the federal judge agreed with the scientist and required HHS to hold a hearing. According to Judge Jackson, 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 plaintiff's version of events. Judge Jackson considered these failures by the ALJ, along with HHS’s continued decision to deny the plaintiff access to his laboratory notebooks, to be “unreasonable,” and the Judge ordered HHS to grant the plaintiff an adjudicatory hearing. Judge Jackson’s order also vacated the HHS Debarment Order, thereby allowing the scientist to resume applying for federal funding for his research projects.

ORI changed its regulations in 2005 by eliminating the panel of scientists who had adjudicated scientific misconduct cases and replacing it with a single ALJ, who is not a scientist but a practicing attorney. Since that change, HHS ALJs have denied every single hearing request by a scientist accused of scientific misconduct. Judge Jackson’s reversal of the ALJ’s decision ensures that the plaintiff will be the first scientist under the new regulations to receive a hearing at which he can defend himself against charges of research misconduct by ORI.

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


Helping clients successfully navigate health care regulation


Clearing the path for a state-of-the-art hospital in Charlestown


Giving back to our community


This website presents general information about Summit Health Law Partners and is not intended as legal advice nor should you consider it as such. You should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

Please note that contacting Summit Health Law Partners by email, telephone or facsimile will not establish an attorney-client relationship, obligate us to act as your attorney or impose an obligation on either the law firm or the receiving lawyer to keep the transmitted information confidential. Completion of Summit Health Law Partners' new client intake protocol, including without limitation the firm’s conflicts checking process and an engagement letter, is necessary to establish an attorney-client relationship. Absent a current attorney-client relationship with Summit Health Law Partners, any information or documents communicated or transmitted by you to Summit Health Law Partners will not be treated as confidential, secret or protected in any way. If you are not a current client of Summit Health Law Partners, please do not send any confidential information to us through this website or otherwise concerning any potential or actual legal matter you have. Before providing any confidential information to us, you must obtain permission to do so from one of the firm’s lawyers. By clicking "Accept," you acknowledge that we have no obligation to maintain the confidentiality of any information you submit to us unless we already represent you or unless we have agreed to receive limited confidential material/information from you as a prospective client.

If you would like to discuss becoming a client, please contact one of our attorneys to arrange for a meeting or telephone conference. If you wish to disclose confidential information to a lawyer in the firm before an attorney-client relationship is established, the protections that the law firm will provide to such information from a prospective client should be discussed with the firm attorney before such information is submitted. Thank you for your interest in Summit Health Law Partners.