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Mass. court rules against veterinarian on lecture

By Denise Lavoie
AP Legal Affairs Writer / March 21, 2012
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BOSTON—The highest court in Massachusetts on Wednesday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit by a veterinarian who claimed Tufts University violated her constitutional rights and caused her emotional distress when she was banned from attending a campus lecture after she had a dispute with the school's veterinary clinic over treatment of her horse.

Margo Roman said in her lawsuit that a Tufts veterinarian accused her of malpractice for using holistic methods and refusing to euthanize her horse, Champ, who was suffering from cancer. Roman said the school later threatened to have her arrested when she arrived on campus for a lecture on the alleged dangers of feeding a raw diet to pets.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld a ruling by a judge who dismissed her lawsuit.

The court found that Tufts did not exclude Roman from the lecture because of her views on raw food diets or because of their dispute over her horse, but because she owed the school money and had been told she would not be allowed to attend continuing education events until she paid her debt.

"We conclude that the circumstances of Roman's exclusion from the lecture did not amount to an interference with any claimed free speech right," Justice Fernande "Nan" Duffly wrote for the court in its unanimous, 5-0, ruling.

Roman has a private practice in Hopkinton focused on integrative medicine, which combines conventional veterinary medicine with holistic medicine, homeopathy and herbal remedies.

According to court documents, Roman brought her horse to see a veterinary ophthalmologist at Tufts in 2004 for treatment of a lesion on her horse's eyelid. Roman asked to have the horse's eye surgically removed. The ophthalmologist diagnosed the lesion as squamous cell carcinoma that had metastasized and recommended euthanizing the horse.

Roman rejected that recommendation, took her horse out of the Tufts hospital and later found another doctor who removed the horse's eye. She said Champ lived for another two years.

Roman said the Tufts ophthalmologist and a hospital director demeaned her integrative approach to veterinary medicine and told her that her treatment of her horse amounted to "malpractice." She said her holistic and homeopathic therapies had been effective in relieving Champ's pain.

A year later, Roman said she was threatened with arrest when she showed up on campus to attend a lecture.

Roman alleged that she was excluded from the lecture because of personal animus toward her or because Tufts disagreed with her views on integrative medicine and raw food diets.

The SJC rejected her claim that her civil rights and right of free speech were violated by Tufts banning her from the lecture. The court also rejected her claim that Tufts intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her and that it committed negligence in its failure to perform surgery on her horse.

Roman's lawyer, John J. Finn, said they were disappointed with the court's ruling.

Scott Lewis, a lawyer for Tufts and three Tufts officials named as defendants in the lawsuit, said they are pleased that the SJC upheld the dismissal of Roman's lawsuit.

"The court properly found that Dr. Roman had not offered any evidence that Tufts excluded her from the campus on the basis of her views," Lewis said.

Alan Rose, a lawyer who wrote a friend-of-the court brief on behalf of Babson College and 10 other colleges and universities in Massachusetts, said the court's ruling is important to institutions of higher education, which often invite speakers and sponsor lectures and debates.

"Colleges and universities want to be able to continue to hold those kinds of public forums and keep them open to the public, but they don't want to be concerned by doing so they might be surrendering their longstanding right to impose reasonable restrictions on attendance," Rose said.

"They are entitled to impose restrictions that are content-neutral, in other words, they are not barring people because people hold particular views. "

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