Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Press Release: Outcome of Aghimien v. Fox

In July 2014 Dr. Mark Fox was subject to a lawsuit by an Indiana University South Bend colleague, Peter Aghimien, and his wife, Mabel. The Aghimiens claimed that Dr. Fox defamed Peter Aghimien in in a blog and in two emails to colleagues. The Aghimiens also claimed that Fox was reckless in making these communications as an IU investigation into allegations of plagiarism was in place at the time. In a media statement at the time he filed the lawsuit Aghimien stated: “It is evident in my view, and for any expert who is looking at it, that this guy [Fox] was just out to destroy me because otherwise, he won’t go that length”. After two-plus years of litigation this matter has been resolved in Fox’s favor with the Indiana Supreme Court denying an appeal by the Aghimiens.

Back in December 2015, the St. Joseph County Circuit Court granted summary judgment for Fox and entered judgment against the Aghimiens on all claims. With regard to the blog, the trial court judge, the Hon. Michael G. Gotsch, Sr., stated:

“... Fox posted what anyone else could have found if they conducted the same thorough research. Perhaps those mentioned in the blog experienced anger and indignation that their written work was now available for scrutiny by the public. However, the Court notes that in publishing their work, they held it out for the public to read and scrutinize.”

“By creating the blog and providing sources that can lead a reader to believe his own presumption, Fox is able to demonstrate his claims while not expressing an opinion. There is no direct accusation of plagiarism on the blog.”

“Fox's blog contained information about the qualifications of professors to teach at a state university and concerning the integrity of that institution. As such, the blog contains matters of general or public concern. Accordingly, the Court concludes that a qualified privilege exists for the blog.”

With regard to the email communications that Fox sent to colleagues, the trial court ruled that sending these emails “was not only important but necessary as a member of the professorial team and thus meets the qualified privilege standard.”

The Aghimiens subsequently appealed the trial court’s decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals, which upheld the trial court’s initial ruling in Fox’s favor. The appellate court’s concluded that: “[t]he Aghimiens have not pointed to any countervailing evidence that indicates Fox falsely or recklessly accused Aghimien of plagiarism.” 

In reflecting on the last few years, Fox observes:
"The rulings by both the trial court and the appellate courts should serve as a wake-up call to universities, including Indiana University, that whistleblowers should not be muzzled from making allegations of plagiarism more public. IU itself found that I made allegations against Aghimien in good faith. IU did find plagiarism in an article co-authored by Aghimien but, for reasons best known to IU, they cleared Aghimien of any wrongdoing. And subsequently, the Indiana courts found Aghimiens’ claims of defamation against me had no legal merit.

I have spent the best part of the last five years dealing with the IU research integrity process and with the Aghimiens meritless lawsuit. I am thankful to finally be vindicated by the courts and gratified by the support I have received from many colleagues. I wish that I had received more support from IU and its Research Integrity Office, and I hope IU provides more support to those raising valid claims of plagiarism in the future. Otherwise, those having good-faith claims of plagiarism may remain silent, which would be harmful to institutions of higher learning like IU."

Related documents for Aghimien v. Fox:

[For Appeal Court documents]
https://publicaccess.courts.in.gov/docket [Under “plaintiff”, search for: Aghimien]

[For St. Joseph County trial court documents] 
https://public.courts.in.gov/mycase/#/vw/Search [Under “party”, search for: Aghimien]

Posted by:
Dr. Mark Fox

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