United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION (DEFENDANT'S APPEAL OF
MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S DECISION)
E. HUDSON SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Stephen L. Jaffe ("Dr. Jaffe"), a staff neurologist
at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veteran's Administration
Medical Center (the "V.A. Hospital") in Richmond,
Virginia, and clinical professor of neurology at the Virginia
Commonwealth University School of Medicine, was convicted in
United States Magistrate Court of simple assault. Dr. Jaffe
timely noted his appeal and the case is before this Court for
events at issue occurred on May 3, 2018. The complainant,
Serendipity Rinonos ("Dr. Rinonos"), a neurology
resident at Virginia Commonwealth University School of
Medicine, was assigned to the V.A. Hospital as part of her
neurology rotation. The V.A. Hospital is situated in the
Eastern District of Virginia and within the special
territorial jurisdiction of this Court.
incident underlying Dr. Jaffe's conviction can be
succinctly described as a dispute between Dr. Jaffe, acting
in his capacity as a clinical professor of neurology, and Dr.
Rinonos, a neurology resident training under his supervision,
as to whether Dr. Jaffe should wear gloves while
administering a trigger point injection to a patient in an
examination room at the V.A. Hospital. Dr. Jaffe steadfastly
declined to wear gloves contending they were both unnecessary
and affected the precision of his hands. (Tr. 85-88, 102-04,
ECF No. 28.) Dr. Rinonos offered to obtain better Fitting
gloves for Dr. Jaffe, which he refused.
conversation took place, the patient, Connie Rhem
("Rhem"), was lying on his back in the examination
room facing away from the door. Rhem was not in a position to
observe the altercation but heard Dr. Jaffe tell Dr. Rinonos
not to leave the room. Rhem testified that he did not observe
Dr. Jaffe make physical contact with Dr. Rinonos.
(Id. at 54-57.)
Beatty, a licensed practical nurse ("Nurse
Beatty"), was situated across the room preparing
syringes for the procedure. (Id. at 19-23.) Nurse
Beatty was in the examination room during the debate which
culminated in Dr. Rinonos walking toward the door to exit the
room after inquiring about Dr. Jaffe's glove size. As she
moved toward the door, Dr. Jaffe, after saying
"Don't go," grabbed Dr. Rinonos by her
shoulders with both hands. (Id. at 90-91.) Dr.
Rinonos placed her hands on Dr. Jaffe's upper arms to
prevent him from advancing further. (Id.) These
events were witnessed by Nurse Beatty who testified that she
saw Dr. Jaffe "turn around towards" Dr. Rinonos and
put "his hands on top of her shoulders."
(Id. at 31-32.) The magistrate judge then asked
Nurse Beatty, "[a]s if to restrain her movement?"
Nurse Beatty replied, "Yes." (Id. at 32.)
She further testified that she witnessed Dr. Rinonos struggle
for five to ten seconds while Dr. Jaffe held her shoulders
and said "No, don't go. We have to do this
procedure." (Id.) Dr. Rinonos then left the
room and proceeded to the office of the Chief of the V.A.
Hospital's Neurology Department. Nurse Beatty and Dr.
Jaffe completed the procedure and continued their rounds.
that day, Dr. Rinonos met with Officer Albert Harris
("Officer Harris"), an investigator with the V.A.
Hospital. Officer Harris testified that Dr. Rinonos described
Dr. Jaffe's contact with her as a bear hug and that she
did not sustain any injuries. (Id. at 144-45.) Dr.
Rinonos, however, denied describing her contact with Dr.
Jaffe as a bear hug. (Id. at 111.) She also conceded
during her testimony that Dr. Jaffe could lose his hospital
privileges and would have no further contact with patients if
convicted. (Id. at 113, 206.)
testimony, Dr. Jaffe concedes that he and Dr. Rinonos debated
the necessity for wearing gloves to administer the trigger
point injection procedure. He testified that Dr. Rinonos
approached him and confronted him "face-to-face,"
causing him to instinctively raise his hands "to the
sides of her upper arms," in an attempt to
"stabilize" the situation. (Id. at 182.)
Dr. Jaffe characterized his contact with Dr. Rinonos as
"minimal." (Id. at 182-85.)
hearing the evidence and argument of counsel, the United
States Magistrate Judge found the testimony of Nurse Beatty,
Rhem, and Dr. Rinonos to be persuasively credible. He
described Dr. Jaffe's testimony as "self-serving and
directly in conflict of other witnesses." (Id.
at 208.) Therefore, the Court found Dr. Jaffe guilty of
simple assault. (Id.)
seeking appellate review by the district court, Dr. Jaffe
contends that the evidence adduced by the government was
insufficient to support a finding of guilty of simple
assault. As the Magistrate Judge articulated, this case
distills to one of credibility of witnesses. Dr. Jaffe argues
Not only was there no evidence of the requisite intent on Dr.
Jaffe's part, the Magistrate Judge erred as a matter of
law when it found that because "he intentionally
touch[ed] her to restrain her movement," Dr. Jaffe is
guilty of simple assault... . This simply is not the law[T]he
prosecution must establish the intent of the actor and that
intent is one with a criminal element - the touching must be
patently offensive and the actor has to intend for it to be.
(Def.'s Br. Supp. Appeal 12, ECF No. 30.)
opposition brief, the United States reminds the Court that
appellate review is both informed and constrained by the
record at hand. Furthermore, as the United States Court of
Appeals for the Fourth Circuit restated in United States
v., Landersman, "[w]e review judgments
resulting from a bench trial under a mixed standard of
review: factual findings may be reversed only if clearly
erroneous, while conclusions of law are examined de
novo." 886 F.3d 393, 406 (4th Cir. 2018) (quoting
Raleigh Wake Citizens Ass'n v. Wake Cty. Bd.
of Elections, 827 F.3d 333, 340 (4th Cir. 2016)). The
Court in Landersman further noted
In assessing the sufficiency of the evidence presented in a
bench trial, we must uphold a guilty verdict if, taking the
view most favorable to the Government, there is substantial
evidence to support the verdict. "Substantial
evidence" means evidence that a reasonable finder of
fact could accept as adequate and sufficient to support ...