Gupta v. New Britain General Hosp.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation239 Conn. 574,687 A.2d 111
Decision Date31 December 1996
Docket NumberNo. 15487,15487
Parties, 115 Ed. Law Rep. 961 Shailesh GUPTA v. NEW BRITAIN GENERAL HOSPITAL.

William A. Wechsler, West Hartford, for appellant (plaintiff).

Theodore J. Tucci, with whom was Alicia B. Davenport, for the appellee (defendant).


PETERS, Justice.

The principal issue in this case is the proper characterization of a residency agreement pursuant to which a surgical resident was dismissed during the final year of his residency training program. The plaintiff physician, Shailesh Gupta, alleging that he had entered into an employment contract with the defendant, New Britain General Hospital (hospital), brought an action challenging the propriety of his dismissal from the hospital's residency training program. The trial court granted a motion for summary judgment filed by the hospital. The plaintiff appealed from the judgment of the trial court to the Appellate Court. We transferred the appeal to this court pursuant to Practice Book § 4023 and General Statutes § 51-199(c) and now affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Because this appeal arises from the granting of summary judgment in favor of the hospital, our review proceeds from a view of the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See, e.g., Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., 193 Conn. 313, 317, 477 A.2d 1005 (1984). In July, 1985, the hospital appointed the plaintiff to serve as a resident physician in the second year of its five year 1 general surgical residency program. 2 Accordingly, the plaintiff and the hospital entered into a Resident Physician Agreement (residency agreement), 3 which described Shortly after the renewal of the plaintiff's residency agreement for a second year, supervising faculty at the hospital and elsewhere 4 began to express concerns whether the plaintiff would be able to complete his residency citing deficiencies in his clinical skills and in his ability to interact with staff members. These doubts led to the hospital's decision to place the plaintiff on probation at the time of the renewal of his residency agreement for a third year beginning in July, 1987.

the objectives of the residency program and specified the mutual obligations of the plaintiff and the hospital. The residency agreement remained in effect [239 Conn. 578] for a term of one year only, subject to possible renewal in one year increments upon favorable evaluation of the plaintiff by faculty members in the hospital's department of surgery.

In February, 1988, during the plaintiff's third year at the hospital and while he was still on probation, the hospital's resident evaluation committee (residency committee) preliminarily determined that there had been insufficient improvement in the plaintiff's clinical performance to justify renewal of his residency agreement for a fourth year. The plaintiff was so warned. The committee decided, however, to defer actual termination of the plaintiff's residency for another ninety days, beginning in March, 1988.

Despite continued doubts as to the plaintiff's performance during this ninety day period At the plaintiff's first quarterly evaluation in September, 1988, the general surgical section unanimously determined that the plaintiff did "not show any potential for being a safe and independent surgeon" and so decided to dismiss him. This determination was based on a number of factors, including the plaintiff's inability to make decisions in the operating room, his unwillingness to accept responsibility for errors, and gaps in the plaintiff's "knowledge base." The plaintiff was informed of his immediate dismissal from the residency program.

the residency committee nonetheless decided, in July, 1988, by one vote, to renew the plaintiff's residency agreement for a fourth and final year. 5 The committee imposed four specific conditions on the plaintiff's renewal as a resident: (1) the plaintiff had to spend the entire year at the hospital, rather than rotating out to other facilities; (2) the plaintiff could supervise a junior resident in the operating room only if an attending surgeon was also present; (3) the plaintiff was required to obtain professional counseling; and (4) the general surgical section would evaluate the plaintiff's performance on a quarterly, rather than an annual, basis.

The plaintiff, with the assistance of counsel, exercised all the procedural rights of review afforded to him under the hospital's bylaws. His dismissal was affirmed, first by an ad hoc committee of the medical staff and, thereafter, by the hospital's appellate review committee. 6

After various unsuccessful efforts to challenge his dismissal as a violation of his civil rights 7 and as a result of discriminatory practices, 8 the plaintiff filed the present action seeking damages because of alleged breaches of the residency agreement by the hospital. The plaintiff's complaint alleged that his dismissal violated the residency agreement because the hospital had: (1) failed to honor the obligations inherent in the residency agreement as a contract of employment; (2) failed to provide proper training facilities as required by the residency agreement; (3) acted arbitrarily, capriciously or in bad faith; and (4) violated an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

The hospital moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. 9 The court concluded that because "the consistent purpose of the [residency] agreement [was] to provide an educational opportunity," the plaintiff and the hospital had entered into an educational, rather than employment, relationship. The court, therefore, characterized the decision to dismiss the plaintiff as an academic decision that lay "solely within the province of the medical community." With respect to the plaintiff's claim that the hospital's residency program was unreasonable or inadequate, the trial court held that, "without a factual basis," the plaintiff had failed to state a cause of action for breach of contract on this ground. In the absence of evidence that the hospital had acted "arbitrarily, capriciously or in bad faith," the trial court held that the plaintiff's dismissal was not a breach of the residency agreement. The trial court did not address explicitly the plaintiff's claim that, in dismissing him, the hospital had violated a covenant of good faith or fair dealing.

On appeal, the plaintiff renews the claims that he made at trial, adding only that the trial court overlooked genuine issues of material fact in granting summary judgment. "The standards governing our review of a trial court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment are well established. Practice Book § 384 provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Doty v. Mucci, 238 Conn. 800, 805, 679 A.2d 945 (1996). Applying these standards, we reject the plaintiff's claims and affirm the judgment of the trial court.


In the plaintiff's principal challenge to the trial court's decision upholding his dismissal, he takes issue with the court's characterization of the nature of the residency agreement. He contends that the court improperly determined that, as a matter of law, the residency agreement gave rise to an educational, rather than employment, relationship and, therefore, mischaracterized his dismissal as an academic decision, to which courts should normally defer, rather than a termination of employment, which would have limited the scope of the hospital's discretion. We agree with the trial court's characterization of the residency agreement.

A proper assessment of the nature of the plaintiff's employment status must take into account the language of the residency agreement as well as any circumstances that might illuminate our interpretation of this language. On the present record, despite the plaintiff's argument to the contrary, this assessment is purely a question of law.

The plaintiff contends that the parties, by emphasizing different portions of the residency agreement that favor their respective interpretations of that agreement, implicitly demonstrated that material facts were in dispute. These "facts," he contends, were not properly considered by the trial court in its decision to grant summary judgment. We disagree.

It is well settled that, for purposes of summary judgment, the moving party "has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue [of] material facts which, under applicable principles of substantive law, entitle him to a judgment as a matter of law ... and the party opposing such a motion must provide an evidentiary foundation to demonstrate the existence of a genuine issue of material fact." (Citations omitted; emphasis added; internal quotation marks omitted.) Doty v. Mucci, supra, 238 Conn. at 805-806, 679 A.2d 945. Merely alluding to disputed material facts, however, without providing substantiation, does not sufficiently establish those facts to preclude summary judgment. See, e.g., Strada v. Connecticut Newspapers, Inc., supra, 193 Conn. at 317, 477 A.2d 1005.

The plaintiff has failed to identify any disputed issues of material fact relevant to the characterization of his relationship with the hospital or his subsequent dismissal from the residency program. Moreover, he has offered no evidence that the parties' relationship should be interpreted by reference to conditions, statements, or any other circumstances not contemplated by the language of the residency agreement. Cf. Torosyan v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 234 Conn. 1, 13-14, 662 A.2d 89 (1995) (implied employment contract inferable from words spoken between parties); ...

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