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New Cases and Developments

NACUA's Legal Resources staff summarizes current higher education cases and developments and provides the full text of selected cases to members. New cases and developments are archived here for up to 12 months.  Cases provided by Fastcase, Inc.

Dates
FERPA; Freedom of Information & Public Record Laws; Students; Practice of Higher Education Law

Kentucky v. University of Kentucky (Ky. Cir. Ct. Aug. 10, 2017)

Declaratory Judgement overruling the Attorney General’s Motion for Summary Judgment, and granting in part but overruling in part the University of Kentucky’s (UK) Motion for Summary Judgment. The Kentucky Kernel,  UK’s student newspaper, requested records from the UK in connection to the resignation of a professor. The University refused to disclose certain documents because they contained personally identifiable student information, and releasing them would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The student newspaper appealed the decision to the AG, pursuant to state public records law that permits the AG to conduct in camera reviews to substantiate the privilege asserted.  Following the University’s subsequent refusal to turn over the records to the AG, the AG found that the University failed to meet its burden of proving that the privilege attached. The University appealed to the circuit court, which held that the University was not required to disclose the documents since  FERPA preempts contradictory provisions in the State open records law, and additionally, since previous open records decisions justified the University’s position. 

8/17/2017
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Veterans Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 (H.R. 3218 Aug. 16, 2017)

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, also known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill update, was signed into law. The legislation expands full educational benefits to additional groups of veterans and their families, and removes the time limit that Post-9/11 recipients have to access their educational benefits. It also restores educational benefits to student veterans whose institutions were temporarily or permanently closed. In July, the American Council on Education and five other higher education institutions wrote a letter to Senate leaders of the Committee on Veterans Affairs in support of the legislation.

8/17/2017
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Disability Discrimination; Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Sani v. University of Alabama Board of Trustees (N.D. Ala. Aug. 10, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion granting the University of Alabama’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, who alleged he suffers from a debilitating facial deformity, applied for and was denied admission to the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa’s (UAT) doctoral program. He claimed that the University denied him admission due to his deformity, and as evidence pointed to alleged “whisper-campaigns, mockery, [and] social exclusions.” He also alleged that a "racist ideology" affected UAT’s graduate admissions decision in violation of Title VII. While the court recognized the plausibility of employment discrimination against individuals with facial deformities, Plaintiff's discussion of his prior work experience undermined his allegation that his nasal deformity prevented him from working at UAB, and he failed to plausibly allege how the derision he faced at UAB was tied to his rejection at UAT. The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s Title VII claim because he asked the court to infer, without any supporting allegations, that his graduate school application was also an employment application and therefore subject to Title VII. 

8/16/2017
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Study Abroad; Immigration & International Activities

Munn v. Hotchkiss School (Conn. Aug. 11, 2017)

Plaintiff, a student at The Hotchkiss School, contracted tick-borne encephalitis while studying abroad in China. She sued Hotchkiss and a jury found the institution negligent. The jury awarded Plaintiff $41.5 million in damages, which included $31.5 million in non-economic damages. Hotchkiss appealed, arguing that it did not have a legal duty to protect students against tick-borne encephalitis and that the jury award was excessive. The Second Circuit found that there was enough evidence to indicate that Plaintiff’s illness was foreseeable but certified the two remaining issues to the Connecticut Supreme Court. Here, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that Connecticut public policy “supports the imposition of a duty” on colleges and universities “to warn about or protect students against the foreseeable risk of serious insect-borne disease” during study abroad trips. In regard to the jury award, the court found that it “fell within the necessarily uncertain limits of just damages.” 

8/16/2017
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Trademark & Licensing; Intellectual Property

American InterContinental University, Inc. v. American University (N.D. Ill. Aug. 14, 2017)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Plaintiffs leave to propose an appropriate jurisdiction for transfer. Career Education Corporation (CEC), the parent corporation of American InterContinental University, Inc. (AICU), filed a trademark application for the mark “American InterContinental University” and a logo. American University (AU) filed an opposition to the application, claiming a likelihood of confusion with AU's registered marks. CED and AICU then filed suit requesting a declaratory judgment that their trademark does not infringe on AU's trademarks, that their continued use of their marks does not violate state law, that any claims of infringement brought by AU are limited by the defenses of laches and acquiescence, and that AU's registered trademark is invalid due to abandonment and lack of ownership. AU has moved to dismiss the suit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court found that it lacked personal jurisdiction over AU because the University is not based in Illinois and the suit did not arise out of AU’s contacts with Illinois. However, the court reserved its dismissal of the case until it has had the opportunity to consider the possibility of transfer.

8/15/2017
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Retaliation; First Amendment & Free Speech; Faculty & Staff; Constitutional Issues

Zimmerman v. University of Utah (D. Utah Aug. 14, 2017)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff’s retaliation claim. A Research Assistant Professor at the University of Utah was hired as a director to oversee, maintain, and develop the Utah Registry of Autism and Developmental Disabilities (URADD). During the course of her employment, she filed numerous complaints against her supervisor and other researchers alleging unauthorized access to confidential URADD data, disruption of her grant-related work, plagiarism, and other forms of misconduct. The University ultimately removed her from her director position and terminated her employment. Plaintiff sued, alleging First Amendment retaliation among other claims. On Defendants’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, the court concluded that all the alleged communications were made pursuant to Plaintiff's official duties as a researcher and director of URADD rather than as a citizen and, therefore, that the First Amendment did not protect her from alleged retaliation by her supervisors or coworkers. 

8/15/2017
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Race and National Origin Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Clemena v. Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017)

Order granting in part and denying in part Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a Philippines native who had diabetes, requested a transfer from a “swing shift” schedule to a first-shift schedule to accommodate his need to get adequate sleep and monitor his glucose levels. His manager assigned a Caucasian employee to the first-ship position instead. After being terminated for sleeping on the job, Plaintiff brought claims of unlawful discrimination and hostile work environment against the College based on alleged violations of Title VII, Section 1981, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and state antidiscrimination law. Plaintiff's Title VII and Section 1981 claims based on both his termination and denial of transfer failed because he did not allege sufficient facts for the court to reasonably infer that the College’s denial of Plaintiff's requests to transfer to the first shift was based on his race, color, and/or national origin. His hostile work environment based on race, color, and/or national origin failed for similar reasons. However, his failure-to-accommodate claim, insofar as it was premised on the College’s denial of his requested transfer, was sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss, as was his ADA wrongful termination claim.

8/15/2017
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Financial Aid; Students

Federal Student Aid Handbook Volume 6 – The Campus-Based Programs (Aug. 14, 2017)

8/15/2017
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