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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False Claims Act; Research

Barber v. Barchi (D.N.J. May 31, 2018)

Unpublished Opinion granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, the former Director of Purchasing Services at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) with Rutgers University, alleged under the False Claims Act (FCA) that UMDNJ unlawfully terminated him based on discriminatory reasons and in retaliation for filing an internal complaint with the Office of Compliance for “suspected unethical and corruption activities.” Given that Plaintiff’s second amended complaint alleged materially identical allegations to those stated in Plaintiff’s amended complaint—which was dismissed after the court determined that the ten-year statute of limitations had run—and given that Plaintiff expressed awareness of the conduct underlying his lawsuit as early as 1999, the court declined to apply equitable tolling and dismissed his claims.

False Claims Act; Veterans & USERRA; Faculty & Staff; Research

Hamilton v. Yavapai Community College District, et al. (D. Ariz. April 13, 2018)

Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a terminated employee of Yavapai Community College (YCC), alleged under the False Claims Act (FCA) that YCC and its flight program partner, Defendant Guidance Academy, LLC, conspired to defraud and defrauded the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) by obtaining funding in violation of 38 C.F.R. § 21.401 (85/15 Rule) and by submitting claims for in-flight training that never occurred. Plaintiff further alleged FCA retaliation and a number of intentional interference claims against Defendants. Addressing whether YCC violated the 85/15 Rule by calculating a single 85/15 ratio for its entire aviation program, rather than calculating four distinct ratios based on its four concentrations within the aviation program, the court found it reasonable for YCC to believe that it was properly calculating and reporting its compliance in 2015 based on the VA’s review of its program from June 1, 2013 to May 6, 2014 and evidence that another area college similarly calculated its 85/15 ratio. However, the court found that YCC’s practice of counting high school students who participated in its aviation program towards the 15% of “nonsupported” students created several issues of material fact as to whether Defendants knowingly miscalculated the 85/15 ratio and whether this alleged failure to comply was material to the VA’s disbursement of funding. The court allowed Plaintiff’s FCA conspiracy and  retaliation, intentional interference with education and employment, and deprivation of liberty claims  to proceed. The court also allowed  Defendants’ counterclaims for defamation and international interference with contract relations to proceed. However, the court dismissed Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendant Guidance violated the FCA by failing to provide students with contracted flight hours, as well as dismissing Plaintiff’s intentional interference with contractual relations claims against Defendant Morgan and YCC due to his lack of a valid contractual relationship with NorthAire Aviation, an alternative flight training school he tried to work for and attend.

Research; Research Safety & Protection; Government Relations; Authorizations & Regulations

Community Statement on House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Hearing on International Academic Exchanges (April 12, 2018)

Joint Statement issued by the American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Council on Governmental Relations, welcoming the opportunity to continue working with Congress and relevant national security agencies to protect “legitimate national security interests associated with scientific research conducted at universities.” Outlining past efforts by the federal government and its relevant agencies to collaborate with the higher education community, the Joint Statement expressed disappointment that the FBI’s National Security Higher Education Board (NSHEB) had been disbanded and asked for a meeting to discuss an alternative forum for continued discussions of the type previously provided by through the NHSHEB.

Research; Freedom of Information & Public Record Laws; Practice of Higher Education Law

Uhr v. University of Minnesota (Minn. App. Jan. 16, 2018)

Unpublished Opinion affirming Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss. Appellant brought claims under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act to obtain training materials, recruiting materials, and the identity of participants in Respondent’s research on illegal alcohol sales to intoxicated individuals. The court found that Respondent was required under its grant application to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, as consistent with federal regulations, to keep individually identifying data of participants confidential. The court further found that training and recruiting materials requested by Appellant were protected as trade secret information because they had “independent economic value.”

Research; False Claims Act

Klee v. McHenry County College (N.D. Ill. July 26, 2017)

Order denying McHenry County College’s Motion to Dismiss. The College terminated Plaintiff, the former Director of the Office of Financial Aid and Veteran Services, for the misuse of the College’s computer systems when he deleted his social security number from his employee records and caused the system to crash. Claiming instead that he was fired in retaliation for reporting that the College was making fraudulent financial aid claims, Plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of the False Claims Act (FCA) and state law. The court found Plaintiff’s reports of financial impropriety sufficient to qualify as a protected activity. Additionally, construing the allegations in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the court declined to conclude that Plaintiff was a “fraud-alert” employee held to a higher notice standard for informing his employer of potential fraudulent activity. Although Plaintiff was responsible for reporting on matters related to financial aid, none of his alleged duties included fraud detection or investigation. Therefore, Plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the College knew of his protected activity. Finally, Plaintiff provided adequate evidence indicating that the College retaliated at least in part due to his protected activity, which was enough to allow his FCA retaliation claim to survive a Motion to Dismiss.