February 15, 2002

Court Dismisses Lawsuit Claims

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The State of New York Supreme Court yesterday dismissed appeals made by Cornell University and Prof. David A. Levitsky, nutritional sciences, to drop the multi-million dollar lawsuit brought against them by Antonia Demas Ph.D. ’95.

Most of Demas’s claims were dismissed, dropping from her original 14 claims to three.

Alleging that Levitsky plagiarized her research in a grant proposal submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the early 1990s, and that Cornell failed to take action in response to her complaints regarding Levitsky’s academic integrity, Demas filed a lawsuit in Tompkins County court in March 1999.

Demas had studied the effects of educating elementary school children to improve their eating habits. She claimed that Levitsky, her senior faculty sponsor who had prepared the USDA proposal grant, took credit for these studies in the application.

Claims of misappropriation, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage and intentional inflection of emotional distress have been dropped over time since Demas’s 1999 lawsuit against Levitsky and Cornell.

“After Cornell perfected its appeal, [the] plaintiff conceded in her responding brief that her claims for breach of fiduciary duty … tortious interference with perspective economic advantage … and intentional infliction of emotional distress … should be dismissed against Cornell,” the state Supreme Court stated yesterday in a brief. “Those causes of action will not be addressed.”

The remaining charges against Levitsky include fraud and breach of contract. Her claim against Cornell regards defamation of character.

While he declined to comment on specifics of the appeal in Dec. 2001, Cornell lawyer Thomas D’Antonio of Rochester, N.Y. had then told The Sun that “generally speaking, the fewer claims there are, the fewer claims there are to address.”

Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, did not return calls for comment yesterday.

While the number of claims has dropped since Demas originally filed the lawsuit, her lawyers say are optimistic about the future of her case and that the remaining charges actually encompass her original 14.

Attorneys for Demas noted that they are satisfied that the charge for fraud was maintained, even if some of the charges, such as fraud and emotional distress, were dropped for redundancy.

“The fraud is what caused the emotional distress. … The damages claimed stem from Professor Levitsky’s fraud,” said Peter D. Salton ’78, co-council for Demas.

Lawyers for Demas are requesting between $2 million and $10 million for each of the remaining claims as well as an additional request of $20 million for punitive damages.

Yet even with 11 claims eliminated, “Eighty percent of the monetary damages still survive in this claim notwithstanding [yesterday’s] decision,” Salton said.

Counselors representing all sides of the case will meet today to discuss the implications of yesterday’s decisions and to consider scheduling points for the rest of the case.

Salton said a trial date has not been set for the case because both sides are in the process of collecting witness depositions and supporting evidence.


Archived article by Ellen Miller