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; Students; Practice of Higher Education Law

Soueidan v. Saint Louis University (E.D. Mo. April 27, 2018)

Memorandum and Order granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a former graduate student at Saint Louis University (SLU), who downgraded to a Master’s degree after spending more than four years pursuing a doctorate, alleged that SLU breached a contract, violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and committed fraud by failing to adhere to certain policies and procedures in SLU’s 2015-16 Catalog. The court found that the educational malpractice doctrine barred Plaintiff’s claims. Under state law, there is no legal duty that would support an educational malpractice claim, and even if there were, addressing Plaintiff’s claims would be at odds with providing universities “flexibility to manage themselves,” since it would require “the Court to become entangled in a dispute ‘over the pedagogical methods employed’… and would involve an inquiry into the nuances of educational processes and theories.” Alternatively, to the extent that Plaintiff’s action sounded in contract, Plaintiff could not have relied on promises in the 2015-16 Catalog, when he made the decision to enroll and pay tuition in 2012, three years prior to its publication. Plaintiff’s fraudulent misrepresentation claim was dismissed because the fraud he alleged was based on the same promises and actions underlying his contract claims.

Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law

Udom v. Bd. of Trs. of Cal. State Univ. (Cal. App. April 26, 2018)

Unpublished Opinion affirming the trial court’s decision to sustain the demurrer. Plaintiff, a former student of California State University (CSU), alleged that CSU fraudulently or negligently created outstanding student loans in his name and intentionally or negligently inflicted emotional distress related to CSU’s handling of the loan disbursement. The court found Plaintiff’s failure to designate an adequate record fatal to his appeal. Nonetheless, considering the merits of Plaintiff’s appeal, the court found that Plaintiff’s misrepresentation claim failed because CSU could not be held liable as a public entity. Further, Plaintiff’s actual or constructive fraud claim failed to identify an underlying contract. Additionally, governmental immunity protected the Defendant from Plaintiff’s IIED claim, while Plaintiff’s NIED claim failed because Plaintiff did not identify any duty owed by Defendant. Last, the court found no error in denying Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend because Plaintiff failed to show in his appeal how he would be able to cure the deficiencies in his pleading.

Contract Administration; Students

Keller v. Board of Trustees of California State University (Cal. App. April 19, 2018)

Unpublished Opinion affirming the district court’s award of summary adjudication to the Defendant. Plaintiffs represent a class of current and former students at California State University (CSU) who allege that CSU breached its contract with students and violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing by twice increasing a required State University Fee paid by students. At issue was whether fees posted in the students’ accounts by individual CSU campuses prior to the increase created an ambiguity regarding price, thus resulting in a material fact that precluded the court from granting summary adjudication, or whether CSU’s Board properly exercised its discretion in adjusting the fees. Conducting de novo review, the court found no ambiguity as to pricing based on CSU’s statutes and regulations, which stated that the Board was authorized to change the fees without notice and provided that students "shall pay" the fees approved by the Board. On the claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, which resulted in a jury verdict in favor of CSU, the court found no abuse of discretion as to the district court’s decision to exclude evidence of Defendant’s fiscal position after the Board’s fee increase, since it was irrelevant for determining whether the fee increase was “objectively reasonable” at the time it was made.

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

Breuder v. College of DuPage, et al. (7th Cir. April 17, 2018)

Interlocutory opinion affirming the decision of the district court.  Plaintiff, the President of the College of DuPage, alleged that the Board of Trustees breached his employment contract, defamed him, and deprived him of liberty and property interests without due process, when it terminated his employment without a hearing.  Looking to Illinois statutory and case law, and rejecting Defendant’s argument that the President’s entire contract was invalid, the court allowed Plaintiff’s contract claims to proceed, noting that disputes as to particular clauses within a contract should be resolved through the regular channels of appeal, and not through interlocutory proceedings.  The court also affirmed the district court’s denial of qualified immunity, based on Plaintiff’s clearly established right to a hearing to ascertain whether the President had engaged in misconduct that warranted termination.  The court declined to extend its interlocutory review to matters beyond these two issues.

Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law

Texas Southmost College District v. Flores Investments, Inc. (Tex. App. Mar. 1, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion reversing and remanding a trial court’s Order denying Appellant’s Plea to the Jurisdiction. Appellee Flores Investments, Inc., brought a breach of contract claim against Appellant Texas Southmost College District (TSC) for declining to use its security services through the end of the parties’ term contract. At issue in the present case was whether Appellee’s breach of contract claim triggered a waiver of sovereign immunity. The court found that there was a contract between the parties, but the remedies Appellee sought for future work were not recoverable under state statute because they were not “direct damages” or “lost profits” constituting a balance against TSC that was “due and owed.”  Because Plaintiff requested damages that were not recoverable under the local government code, Plaintiff failed to effect a waiver of sovereign immunity.

Contract Administration; Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); Disability Discrimination; Practice of Higher Education Law; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Grant v. UMDNJ-UCHC-Rutgers Univ. (D.N.J. Feb. 21, 2018)

Opinion granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgement.  Plaintiff, a licensed practical nurse, was counseled and received a warning for several unscheduled absences and instances of tardiness, before applying for and being granted Medical/FMLA leave, which retroactively covered only a portion of the absences.  Plaintiff failed to return to work after the leave period ended, was suspended for the absences incurred prior to the approved leave, and was subsequently terminated by Defendant after several additional unscheduled absences.  Plaintiff filed suit alleging disability discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Family Leave Act (NJFLA), and the ADA, as well as breach of contract.  Regarding the disability discrimination claims, the court found that Plaintiff’s “chronic attendance violations” constituted “a legitimate, nondiscriminatory rationale for terminating Plaintiff” and that Plaintiff did not demonstrate that the rationale was pretextual.  In dismissing Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim, the court found that Defendant followed its Attendance Control Policy and Plaintiff did not raise a genuine issue of material fact to suggest otherwise.

Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Sex Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Powell v. Saint Joseph’s University (E.D. Pa. February 16, 2018)

Memorandum granting in part and denying in part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a student at Saint Joseph’s University (SJU), was expelled following a finding that Plaintiff had violated SJU’s policy prohibiting harassment on the basis of sex/gender, among other characteristics (the Harassment Policy). Three female students alleged that plaintiff had stalked them in violation of SJU’s policy regarding sexual assault, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking (the Stalking Policy). Following receipt of these allegations, SJU retained an independent investigator and initiated an investigation under the Stalking Policy. The independent investigator found no violation of the Stalking Policy but instead found that plaintiff violated the Harassment Policy. The Harassment Policy, unlike the Stalking Policy, required that SJU give plaintiff notice of and an opportunity to respond to charges under the policy. Following the investigation, SJU expelled plaintiff and plaintiff sued alleging several breach of contract claims, violation of Title IX, negligence, and violation of a Pennsylvania state statute on unfair trade practices and consumer protection. The court granted Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the Title IX, negligence, and state statute claims, and all but one breach of contract claim, but found that plaintiff’s breach of contract claim regarding failure to follow the Harassment Policy was plausible and should not be dismissed. The court noted that plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently alleged that SJU failed to provide plaintiff notice and opportunity to respond as required by the terms of the Harassment Policy.  

Contract Administration; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Practice of Higher Education Law

Hewlett v. Utah State University, et al. (D. Utah Feb. 8, 2018)

Memorandum Decision and Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Defendant Relopez assaulted Plaintiff at an off-campus fraternity party while both were students at Utah State University (USU). Plaintiff brought section 1983 claims and a breach of contract claim against USU, Individual Defendants, and various Greek fraternity entities for not doing more to protect and help her. At issue was whether Individual Defendants were protected by qualified immunity and whether UTU’s Code of Policies and Procedures for Students constituted a valid contract. The court found that qualified immunity protected the Individual Defendants from Plaintiff’s section 1983 claims because they did not violate a clearly established constitutional right. The court directed the parties to examine whether they should certify a question to the Utah Supreme Court to obtain a ruling about whether a university policy can be enforced as a contract.