MIT, Campus Police Cleared in Shin Lawsuit; Counts Against Administrators, Doctors Remain

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Memorandum of Decision and Order on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

By Kelley Rivoire

A judge has cleared MIT of wrongdoing in a $27.65 million lawsuit filed three years ago against MIT employees and the Institute by the parents of Elizabeth H. Shin ’02.

Most recently, all counts against former MIT police officers were dismissed with the agreement of the Shins. Some counts of wrongdoing filed against individual MIT employees, including doctors and administrators, remain active.

In 2000, Shin committed suicide by self-inflicted burns in her Random Hall room following more than a year of mental health treatment at MIT Medical. The MIT Police responded to a call from a Random Hall resident at the time of the fire. Shin was hospitalized for burns on the day of the fire, April 10, 2000, and died four days later.

Justice Christine M. McEvoy of the Massachusetts Superior Court granted a motion of summary judgment late last month in favor of MIT on all four counts brought against the Institute by Cho Hyun and Kisuk Shin. A summary judgment in favor of MIT means that no issues of fact exist that could implicate MIT, and that MIT cannot reasonably be viewed as liable on those counts.

Three of the four counts deal with contractual obligations of the Institute to provide “necessary and reasonable” medical services to Shin. McEvoy’s decision said that there was no record of “specific promises” by MIT Medical staff to Shin; therefore, “there was no contract” between MIT and the Shins.

The counts filed against the MIT police officers, former Chief of MIT Police Anne P. Glavin, former Dispatcher Orlando Tirella, and former Officer Paul Valentino, were for negligence, wrongful death, conscious pain and suffering, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The complaint filed by the Shins in 2002 had stated that the officers had “acted in a wilful, wanton, reckless, or grossly negligent manner,” causing Shin’s death, and had failed to provide reasonable security and emergency services to Shin. The dismissal, agreed to by all parties involved, was filed July 14. The dismissal stipulates that no appeal is possible.

A motion for summary judgment filed by Random Hall Housemaster Nina Davis-Millis and Arnold R. Henderson, former dean of Counseling and Support Services (since renamed Student Support Services), was not successful in clearing all counts against them. The judge allowed summary judgment on only two, negligent misrepresentation and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

The four counts that remain active are for negligence, wrongful death, and conscious pain and suffering. Davis-Millis and Henderson will argue in future proceedings that Shin’s death was accidental, and not a suicide, according to their motion for summary judgment.

The judge’s decision said that although the administrators did not treat Shin, they had met with her numerous times and had discussed Shin’s case on the day of her death. As such, there was sufficient evidence that the administrators might have been able to foresee that Shin would harm herself, and they had a duty to “exercise reasonable care to protect Elizabeth from harm.” Additionally, a third administrator, Ayida S. Mthembu, associate dean of Student Support Services, was named in all six counts, but did not file a motion for summary judgment.

Four doctors from MIT Medical who were involved in treating Shin for mental health issues, Linda Cunningham, Kristine A. Girard, Anthony Van Niel, and Peter Reich, also filed a motion for partial summary judgment requesting that four of the six counts of medical malpractice against them be thrown out; two of the four were discarded. Girard also independently filed a motion requesting that all six counts against her be discarded; her motion was denied on the additional two counts. A fifth doctor, Lili A. Gottfried, did not file any motion. Cunningham no longer works at MIT.

The motions for summary judgment were filed in January and February of this year; McEvoy’s decision was dated June 27.

The judge’s rulings granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants can be appealed once decisions have been made on all counts filed by the Shins.

This story was updated on Wednesday, July 20, 2005, at 11:28 PM.
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