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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Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

McKeny v. Ohio University (Oh. Ct. App. Nov. 16, 2017)

Decision affirming summary judgment in favor of the Defendant-Appellee. Plaintiff, a tenure-track assistant professor in the Department of Teacher Education, alleged that Ohio University (OU) breached a contract and deprived Plaintiff of due process when OU declined to award him tenure for lack of sustained scholarship.  The court found that the Plaintiff failed to allege a breach, since the university's tenure policy allowed for reviewers to make subjective determinations about applicants' scholarship, and since Plaintiff was evaluated on this standard, without there being any evidence that the decision was arbitrary, capricious, or made in bad faith. The court also concluded that Appellant failed to provide sufficient evidence of any due process violation. 

Foundations & Affiliated Entities; Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Governance; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Huffman v. University Medical Center Management Corp., et al. (E.D. La. Oct. 31, 2017)

Order and Reasons denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a deaf individual who communicates primarily in American Sign Language, alleged that Defendants’ failure to provide her an interpreter while she was admitted to University Medical Center, a full-service hospital owned by Defendant Louisiana State University (LSU) but operated by a private entity through a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement, resulted in her receiving substandard medical treatment in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the American Disabilities Act. The issue before the court was whether LSU’s contract with Defendant Louisiana Children’s Medical Center (LCMC) and Defendant University Medical Center Management Corporation (UMCMC), to provide medical services that LSU was authorized to provide, qualified as a “service, program, or activity” of LSU. The court found that Plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to proceed and in its reasoning, adopted 5th Circuit precedent and regulatory guidance that imputed liability to state entities when they have contracted with a private entity to provide services and the private entity denies a person services because of a disability.

Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Employee Discipline; Faculty & Staff

Fendley v. Wright State University (Ohio Ct. Cl. September 19, 2017)

Decision of the Magistrate Judge recommending judgement in favor of Defendant. Plaintiff, former employee of Wright State University, filed suit alleging breach of contract when he was terminated purportedly without “just cause” or “documented just cause,” as required by the Defendant’s administrative policies and procedures. At the time of his termination, Plaintiff was under investigation for visa fraud. While no indictment ultimately followed, the court found that Defendant’s belief that an indictment was imminent was reasonably informed and constituted “just cause” for Plaintiff’s termination in compliance with the University’s policies and procedures.

Practice of Higher Education Law; Contract Administration; Research; Grants, Contracts and Sponsored Research

Emrit v. University of Arkansas (W.D. Ark. Feb. 13, 2017)

Order granting defendant’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  The University of Arkansas dismissed the plaintiff from a master’s program because he failed out.  Plaintiff alleged that his dismissal amounted to a breach of contract and gave rise to various tort claims.  Because the State was immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment, the Court dismissed the action. 

Contract Administration; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Chenari v. George Washington University (D.C. Feb. 10, 2017)

Opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, affirming the district court’s award of summary judgment to the Defendant. George Washington University (GWU) dismissed Plaintiff from the Medical School for transferring answers from a test booklet to an answer sheet after time for the exam had expired.  Plaintiff alleged that because his conduct did not violate an express provision in the University Honor Code, GWU breached a contract when it dismissed him from the University.  Plaintiff also alleged that the University failed to accommodate his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  Acknowledging the long-standing principle that colleges and universities are entitled to deference in academic decisions, and noting that the Honor Code prohibited students from “violat[ing] any other commonly understood principles of academic honesty,” the Court found plaintiff’s breach of contract arguments to be unpersuasive. The Court also affirmed summary judgment in the Defendant’s favor on the ADA and Rehabilitation Act claims because Plaintiff produced no evidence showing that the University denied a requested accommodation.
Contract Administration

Weston v. Cornell Univ., 2016 NY Slip Op 735 (N.Y. App. Div., Feb. 4, 2016)

Decision from the New York Court Appellate Division, modifying a decision from the New York Supreme Court to award summary judgment to the Defendant and dismiss Plaintiff's Breach of Contract Claim in its entirety. Plaintiff, who was dismissed from Cornell University after she was twice denied tenure, was initially appointed as an Associate Professor "with tenure," subject to the Defendant's review process. The Supreme Court held that the ambiguous language of the appointment created a dispute of fact as to whether the letter should be construed to "reflect[] an intent to assure plaintiff that she would be granted tenure." Although the Court agreed with the Supreme Court's analysis, the Appellate Division nonetheless modified the Order, reasoning that the parties had mutually modified the contract when in 2003, Plaintiff accepted an offer for extended appointment "without tenure."
Contract Administration

Fleming v. Kent State Univ., 2015 Ohio 5626 (Ohio Ct. Cl., Apr. 24, 2015)

Decision from the Court of Claims of Ohio, awarding liquidated damages and pre-judgment interest to the Plaintiff for Defendant's breach of contract. In this bifurcated proceeding, the Court had previously determined that Defendant Kent State University breached its contract with the Plaintiff by reassigning him from his position as Defensive Coordinator of the Kent State Football Team. The contract was for a fixed period of 28 months and contained a stipulated damages clause for early termination that required the Defendant to pay "the balance then in effect base salary due for the remaining term" if the Defendant initiated the termination. Applying Ohio law, the Court determined that the liquidated damages clause was valid and enforceable.