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Federal Civil Rights Suit Brought Against UCLA, UC Regents For Copying Prof's Hard Drive

A tenured professor in the Department of Radiological Sciences at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine filed a federal lawsuit last week against the school and the UC Board of Regents arguing that his civil rights were violated when university officials entered his office and copied a personal hard drive in 2008, according to documents provided to LA Weekly.

Robert Burnham Lufkin and others affected by the suit -- people with a stake in information on the drive -- are plaintiffs in the case that alleges UCLA violated their privacy. The core of the suit involves the professor's work for private firm US Radiology On-Call (USROC): When the school searched his office it was to provide fodder for its own, 2009 suit that Lufkin was performing outside work for USROC against UC policy. (USROC also filed a cross-complaint against UCLA and the Regents).

The Regents filed suit against the professor alleging just that -- that he performed work, sometimes on UCLA time, for the company. The university's suit states that Lufkin violated UC policy that requires a professor like him to share any proceeds from outside endeavors that benefit from his UCLA research.

However, Lufkin's civil-rights suit -- while arguing the above is not necessarily the case -- also alleges more nefarious motives on the part of the school. It states that Dieter Enzmann, Chair of the Department of Radiological Sciences at the UCLA School of Medicine, was the sole member of the faculty there that stood in his way for a promotion in 2004 and since then has essentially had it out for Lufkin.

Additionally, the suit alleges, the department head wanted to get his hands on information about USROC for his own personal enrichment. (Lufkin had actually tried to fuse a formal relationship between UCLA and the company, one that was apparently turned down by UCLA).

The move to seize Lufkin's hard drive info was "driven partly by personal motivations of Dr. Enzmann. Dr. Enzmann desired to glean information about teleradiology [the technology being pioneered at USROC] by surreptitiously monitoring USROC, including for the purposes of advancing his own personal financial interest and the interests of third party technology providers with whom he has close affiliations," Lufkin's suit states.

Information on the prof's 75-gig hard drive included proprietary USROC data such as lists of customers, prospective customers, and vendors; confidential business plans, contracts, and service protocols. But the drive also contained documents covered by attorney-client privilege, medical histories protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the California Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, and the private documents of third parties, including tax returns.

The suit does not disclose how much money Lufkin and his fellow plaintiffs seek, but it does mention that there will be an amount to be determined at a later time

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