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.

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Student Organizations; Students; Contract Administration; Risk Management; Athletics & Sports; Compliance & Risk Management; Practice of Higher Education Law

Turner v. University of Cincinnati (Ohio Ct. Cl. May 30, 2018)

Decision granting Defendant Judgement as a Matter of Law. Plaintiff—a University of Cincinnati (UC) student—alleged under the doctrine of respondeat superior and under the terms of a UC Insurance Policy, that UC was liable for injuries he sustained when a fellow student driving a non-UC vehicle drifted to the left side of the road, struck an oncoming vehicle, and collided with a tree while returning from an Ultimate Frisbee Club Team tournament. Looking to controlling state law to define the at-fault driver’s relationship to UC, the court found Defendant not liable for Plaintiff’s injuries because the at-fault driver did not act as an agent or employee of UC.  The court also declined to impute liability to UC pursuant to the terms of the Insurance Policy, since the driver used a family member’s car instead of renting a vehicle through the university for the trip. The court declined to answer whether the at-fault driver qualified as a protected person under the Insurance Policy because Plaintiff failed to assert a claim for a declaratory judgment to determine the matter, reasoning that issuing such a finding would result in an advisory opinion. 

Risk Management; Compliance & Risk Management; Distressed & Suicidal Students; Campus Police, Safety & Crisis Management

Regents of the University of California, et al. v. Superior Court of L.A. Cnty. (Cal. March 22, 2018)

Opinion reversing the decision of the Court of Appeal and remanding the case for further proceedings. Respondent represents Katherine Rosen, a student of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) who was stabbed during a chemistry lab by a student who had experienced auditory hallucinations and was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. At issue was whether UCLA owed a duty of care to protect Rosen from harm. Answering this inquiry in the affirmative, the court recognized that a “special relationship” existed between a university and its students, which carries a duty to protect students from foreseeable acts of violence during curricular activities. The court identified two categories of “factors that may, on balance, justify excusing or limiting defendant’s duty of care”:  (1) factors related to “foreseeability and the related concepts of certainty and the connection between plaintiff and defendant”  and (2) public policy concerns such as moral blame, failure to prevent future harm, burden, and insurance availability.  As to foreseeability, the court opined that violence against students on-campus or during curricular activities was a foreseeable occurrence “that colleges have been equipping themselves to address for at least the past decade,” particularly in the aftermath of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.  On remand, the court must determine whether UCLA negligently breached its duty to Rosen and whether various immunity statutes shielded Petitioners from liability.

Risk Management; Compliance & Risk Management

Jessica Colmorgen v. Bd. of Trustees of Cornell University, et al. (N.Y. Sup. Ct. September 11, 2017)

Decision granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment and denying Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. A student at Cornell University, slipped and fell due to a pool of water that collected in a depression in the bathroom floor of her residence hall. Plaintiff sued Defendants on the theory of premises liability, but the court found that Plaintiff did not allege any facts showing that Defendants created, or had any actual or constructive knowledge of the alleged dangerous condition. Moreover, Plaintiff’s admission that she saw the pool of water long before she slipped and fell absolved the University of any duty to warn.  

Risk Management; Compliance & Risk Management

Gerber v. Ohio Northern University (6th Cir. Aug. 17, 2017)

Opinion and Order affirming the district court’s judgment in favor of Defendant. Plaintiff, a Law Professor at Ohio Northern University's Pettit College of Law (ONU), alleged that the interim dean "verbally berated and attacked” him while grabbing and squeezing his shoulder during an argument in the hallway. Plaintiff claimed that the interaction caused him “mental anguish” and “emotional distress,” along with physical injury to his shoulder. Plaintiff sued the interim dean, Ohio Northern, and several Ohio Northern employees for assault and battery. After dismissing Plaintiff’s claims against ONU, the district court ruled in favor of the interim dean. Finding no reversible error, the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The district court’s decisions to deny Plaintiff’s requests for stay did not amount to "judicial bias and/or hostility,” its denial of a continuance was not an abuse of discretion or a violation of Plaintiff’s right to due process, and the district judge’s declining to recuse himself did not amount to an abuse of discretion. Moreover, the district court had good reason to conclude that the interim dean did not have the requisite intent required to assert an assault claim and that Plaintiff failed to show that the touching of his shoulder was harmful or offensive.  

Risk Management; Compliance & Risk Management

Trippany v. Bossier Parish Community College (La. App. Aug. 2, 2017)

Opinion affirming the jury’s judgment in favor of Defendants-Appellees. A student at Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC) slipped and fell near a puddle of water on the floor that materialized after BPCC employees and students carried in some equipment during a brief rain shower. At the time of the incident, BPCC's safety policy required employees to guard against water dripping onto the floor when wet items are brought inside. Plaintiff-Appellant filed a negligence suit against BPCC, the Board of Supervisors of Community and Technical Colleges, and the State of Louisiana. After weighing the evidence, a jury found that Defendants-Appellees did not breach a duty of care owed to Plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed, asserting that the jury erred because the college's employees allowed water to drip on the floor, contrary to BPCC policy. The court affirmed the jury’s judgment, finding that the evidence presented supported a finding that Plaintiff-Appellant did not in fact slip in the puddle of water and therefore that she could not establish that Defendants-Appellees breached their duty of care.