Dental school challenges $1.7 million award

2008 08 29 15 39 44 564 Justice Scale 70

Four faculty members at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry are demanding a new trial and a reduced jury award in the case of a student who was awarded more than a $1 million for unfair dismissal from the school.

Alissa Zwick was awarded $1.7 million in December after a federal jury decided her due process rights were violated and she was unfairly dismissed from the school in 2005.

“They don't want to take responsibility for their actions, and want to blame the judge and
jury instead.”
— Deborah Gordon

Zwick was told her performance in clinic was weak and she was not capable of practicing dentistry.

Zwick, however, claimed she was the victim of infighting between faculty members and the school's associate dean, Marilyn Lantz, D.M.D.

Ultimately, the school failed to make a careful, deliberate, and unbiased decision about Zwick's dismissal during the appeals process, according to a complaint filed by her lawyer.

Now lawyers for Dr. Lantz and the three other defendants have filed a motion calling for a new trial and/or reduction in the award.

Zwick was given "constitutionally sufficient notice" that faculty members were not satisfied with her progress, and her dismissal was "careful and deliberate," according to the December 18 court filing.

The motion asserts that the court admitted "irrelevant" and "prejudicial" evidence, such as the grades of other students. It further states that the court gave erroneous instructions to the jury regarding Zwick's due process rights that skewed the judgment in her favor.

Also, the court asked the jury to consider whether the dismissal was "fundamentally fair," allowing them to use "subjective determination" instead of the "context specific legal standard," according to the complaint.

The jury's $1 million punitive damages award to Zwick was "grossly excessive" and the $500,000 noneconomic damages award was "not supported by record evidence," according to the defendants.

Zwick's lawyer, Deborah Gordon, said the motion was standard procedure.

"They don't want to take responsibility for their actions, and want to blame the judge and jury instead," she told

According to the motion, there was insufficient evidence that Dr. Lantz had personal animosity toward Zwick. Also, the school gave Zwick due notice of the faculty's dissatisfaction with her progress and afforded her two hearings with "unbiased decision-making bodies" before taking the decision to dismiss her.

"There is nothing new here," Gordon said. "They made all these arguments before the trial as well."

Calls for comment to Timothy Howlett, a lawyer for the defendants, were not returned.

U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani will hear arguments on February 11.

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