WASHINGTON – The claims of a former top National Institutes of Health cardiologist that four of his colleagues conspired to destroy his reputation was rejected by a federal appeals court.
In a 3-0 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Dr. Barry J. Maron in his suit against the government and Drs. Stephen E. Epstein, Lameh Fananapazir, Edward Korn and Neil Epstein.
Maron, a NIH cardiologist since 1972, told a superior in 1989 that he believed Fananapazir was intentionally omitting data from a scientific manuscript regarding hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a fatal heart condition.
Shortly after, Maron claimed he began to suffer continual and increasingly severe mistreatment by his fellow physicians. Maron claimed that Stephen Epstein threatened to fire him, and that Epstein said that he “did not care” if Fananapazir and Neil Epstein were fabricating data, according to court papers.
Maron said his laboratory was taken away from him, he was no longer allowed to see patients and he could not contribute to publications.
“It is about lying, misrepresentation, whistle-blowing, scientific misconduct and silencing the person who knows,” Maron said in a telephone interview Friday.
Maron filed a complaint against the four doctors based on intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy and invasion of privacy.
The District Court dismissed Maron’s complaint on the grounds that federal employees are immunized from lawsuits for “negligent or wrongful act(s) … while acting within the scope of his office or employment.”
After the case was dismissed, Maron left NIH for the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation.
After Maron started work at the foundation as the director of cardiovascular research, he claimed his former colleagues continued to damage his reputation with phone calls and faxes to his new colleagues and Minnesota medical regulators.
Maron filed a second suit for $4.5 million based on his former colleagues actions after he left NIH. That case also was dismissed based on the federal immunization law.
The appeals court agreed with both District Court decisions that the defendants were acting within the scope of employment when the conduct was performed.
The court decided that Maron’s “speculation” about the ill- will of his colleagues at NIH was not enough to prove that their acts fell outside their scope of employment.
“The courts have created a huge sort of immunization of federal employees,” said Maron’s attorney Lori Klein. “As long as it occurs between 9 and 5 and at the place of work, I am hard pressed to find anything that the court would not consider in the scope of employment.”
Maron said he did not know if he would appeal the case to the Supreme Court.
Elizabeth Gianturco, an attorney with the U.S. Health and Human Service Department, declined comment.