A Fountain Valley doctor who was convicted in 2001 of sexually abusing a woman in a hospital room–and who was denied a California medical license four times before finally getting it in 2008–is now accused of pressing his penis against a prone female patient’s arm, improperly touching her breasts and trying to get her to bend over while pressing his pelvic area against her backside.
Kimberly Kirchmeyer, executive director of the Medical Board of California, states in a Nov. 20 accusation that Dr. Sean (Shehab) Ataee is subject to a disciplinary hearing for alleged incompetence, unprofessional conduct, repeated acts of negligence, sexual misconduct, gross negligence (for improper touching of patient’s breasts) and a second cause of gross negligence (for improper touching and physical contact during examination of patient’s hips).
Ataee is a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Health Atlast, a chiropractic, massage and acupuncture practice in Fountain Valley, where a woman received a vitamin B12 injection from him on Oct. 21, 2016, without incident. She returned to Health Atlast on Nov. 11, 2016, complaining of upper back and wrist pain.
According to the documents Kirchmeyer filed, the patient was taken into an examination room, where Ataee provided her a gown. A nurse at a nearby clinic, she had arrived in her hospital scrubs, and she removed her bra, shirt and shoes, put on the gown and tied it in back and kept her panties and scrub pants on while sitting on the examination table.
Ataee returned, performed a nerve conduction study and concluded that she did not have carpal tunnel syndrome. He then had her lie face down on her stomach, performed trigger point injections in her upper back region and massaged the injection sites. While he massaged the injected areas, the patient “felt his groin pressing against her upper arm, causing her to reposition her arm away from his bodily contact,” according to the accusation.
The physician is alleged to have then instructed the woman to lie face up on her back before he raised her right arm, moved it, asked if she had pain and then reached under the gown, exposing her right breast, which he fondled with his open hand, according to the accusation. The patient says she told the doctor she was “fine there,” which prompted him to remove his hand from her right breast, lower her arm and repeat the same maneuver on her left arm and breast, which brought a second “fine there” response from the woman, who claims she had to tell him at least four times that she was “fine there” before he removed his hand from her left breast.
Ataee is accused of then having the woman stand, asking if she had trouble walking and, while standing behind her, placing his hands on her hips. He then had her take several steps while he placed his bare hands under her gown and, with his right hand, reached into her pants and beneath her underwear, touching her bare skin, according to the state documents.
He is then alleged to have stepped forward, at which time “the patient felt what she believed to be his erect penis against her buttocks,” reads the accusation, which adds that he next asked her “to bend forward several times,” which she refused to do. Ataee is said to have then removed his hands from the patient’s pants, informed her that she could get dressed and left the room.
The state medical board accusation says the tests and treatment Ataee provided during the visit was appropriate given the patient’s complaints, but none should have involved pressing his penis against her, touching her breasts, reaching under her gown, touching her hips, reaching beneath her underwear or grinding on her from behind.
Before leaving Health Atlast, the woman made a follow-up appointment at the receptionist’s desk, but she later called back to cancel any further visits there and report that she was touched inappropriately by Ataee, according to the accusation, which directs the California board to consider his past in New York and Orange County when determining what, if any, discipline he should now face.
On March 13, 2000, Ataee was working as a resident physician in a postgraduate training program at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, New York, where he was conducting a physical examination of a comatose patient who was in an intensive care room bed with her adult daughter present.
During his exam, he offered to show the daughter how to exercise her mother’s legs, but he proceeded to touch the younger woman’s breasts, stomach and hips without her consent and tried to put his hand inside her pants, according to New York state documents that were later copied in Ataee’s requests for a California medical license.
The daughter pushed Ataee away, verbally rejected his “sexual actions” and left the room, according to the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct, which censured and reprimanded the resident “for having engaged in the sexual misconduct that constituted an act of professional misconduct.” (Ataee did not yet hold a license to practice medicine in New York but, as a medical resident there, he was subject to state disciplinary action. )
Ataee was convicted in New York on Oct. 1, 2001, for misdemeanor sexual abuse. The criminal conviction cost him his residency at Elmhurst, and his wife, who had emigrated from Iran after her husband came to the States because of the Iranian revolution, was so distraught about the incident that she attempted suicide.
A civil lawsuit was also filed against Ataee, and he was forced into such considerable financial debt that he delivered newspapers and drove a taxi to support his family. However, he was eventually reinstated to a Mount Sinai Hospital residency program, which he completed before relocating to Long Beach for a two-year fellowship. Shortly after relocating to California, he lost the fellowship position, however.
The Medical Board of California denied Ataee’s applications for medical licenses in November 2000, February 2001, July 2003 and April 2005. He appealed the last denial to an administrative law judge, who noted the doctor continued to adamantly deny having committed any sexual offense. The court concluded Ataee had not made a sufficient showing of rehabilitation to support the issuance of a license.
However, the New York medical board did grant Ataee a full and unrestricted medical license in 2004, and he was also granted an unrestricted license in the State of Washington.
Citing the length of time that had elapsed since the Elmhurst incident, “significant rehabilitation” Ataee had undergone, the absence of further incidents in several medical offices, “much praise for his work,” the completion of numerous hours of continuing education courses and “an intensive outpatient sex offender treatment program,” an administrative law judge ruled in 2008 he should also get his license in California.
“Respondent now demonstrates great insight into the incident leading to his criminal conviction and believes he has learned a great deal from this long journey,” the judge wrote. “Respondent has also attended a professional boundaries course designed for physicians where he focused on learning how to maintain proper professional boundaries with patients and their families and prevent any problems with misunderstanding or crossing those boundaries in the future. One example of changes respondent will make in the future is that he plans to keep a female chaperone in the room whenever he is treating a female patient.”
Later: “He poses no threat to public safety and it would not be against the public interest to grant respondent a license to practice medicine.”
The judge’s “proposed decision” then went back to the state medical board, which could either accept it as is or reject it in part or in whole. The board in a decision dated Nov. 20, 2008, granted Ataee his license.
However, in the Orange County Superior Court civil lawsuit Jane Doe v. Gateway Rehab & Wellness Center, Inc., Victor Rafa, D.C. and Sean Ataee, MD, a woman claimed that she was “touched in an inappropriate and sexual manner” by Ataee at Gateway Rehab in Mission Viejo on April 11, 2012, and that the alleged “sexual assault” caused her “emotional distress, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and a sleep disorder.” Dr. Rafa settled the matter with the plaintiff for $1 million, according to the California medical board.
One thing the woman faulted Rafa for was not providing a female chaperone in the room when Ataee treated her.
There was no chaperone present for the alleged Health Atlast incident.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.