Nam v. Regents of UCAnnotate this Case
"The facts as alleged in the complaint and in plaintiff’s declaration in opposition to the motion to strike are not at all clear." Plaintiff Un Hui Nam, a new medical resident in the anesthesiology department at UC Davis Medical Center, "got off to a rocky start" in July of 2009. The Court of Appeal surmised that there appeared to have been some tension and misunderstandings right from the beginning of plaintiff's residency. What occurred thereafter and why was the subject of the underlying lawsuit and appeal. Plaintiff labeled the hospital's actions as "retaliation" when she questioned whether residents were allowed to intubate patients. She expressed her disagreement with any policy that would compel the residents in an emergency to wait for the on-call team rather than independently intubating a patient. The week prior to this email, she had received excellent performance evaluations. Plaintiff copied all of the residents in her email. Some of these residents thereafter informed her that she should expect retaliation for sending it. Defendant, however, insisted the e-mail excited no such reaction. Defendant’s version of plaintiff's residency file consisted of a series of complaints, warnings, investigations, and leaves of absence necessitated by plaintiff’s "shortcomings" over a three-year period and culminating in her ultimate termination. The record contained both complaints and testimonials about plaintiff’s performance. Apparently she had a particularly good rapport with nurses. Defendant built a paper trail of warnings for unprofessional conduct and an inability to get along with other doctors. But many of defendant’s allegations were not substantiated during the internal investigations that ensued, and the anesthesiology department was criticized repeatedly for what it did, and did not do, to teach plaintiff the clinical and interpersonal skills needed to succeed in the program. Plaintiff requested, without success, a formal hearing to contest the termination. In January 2013 she filed her complaint for retaliation, discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, violations of the Business and Professions Code, and breach of contract. Defendant filed a motion to strike pursuant to section 425.16 of the Code of Civil Procedure, alleging that plaintiff’s complaint constituted a SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) and arose from written complaints made in connection with an official proceeding. Defendant argued that the investigations and corrective action were protected conduct. The trial court disagreed and denied the motion. The trial court's denial of defendant's motion to strike was affirmed: "It is hard to imagine that a resident’s complaint alleging retaliatory conduct was designed to, or could, stifle the University from investigating and disciplining doctors who endanger public health and safety. The underlying lawsuit may or may not have merit that can be tested by summary judgment, but it is quite a stretch to consider it a SLAPP merely because a public university commences an investigation."