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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Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Practice of Higher Education Law

Threadford v. Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama (N.D. Ala. May 14, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff alleged that Defendant violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) and invaded her privacy under state law by repeatedly contacting her with a pre-recorded message through autodialing without her permission. The court found that Eleventh Amendment immunity barred Plaintiff’s TCPA claim because nothing in the express language of the Act abrogated Defendant’s immunity, while sovereign immunity barred Plaintiff’s invasion of privacy claim.

Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Sex Discrimination; Retaliation; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Pierotti v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Cal. (N.D. Cal. May 11, 2018)

Order granting Defendant’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a senior administrator at the University of California (UC) Berkeley who proceeds pro se, alleged under Title VII and state law that 1) a UC immediate supervisor subjected her to sexual harassment and 2) Defendant retaliated against her by demoting and terminating her after she pursued a whistleblower complaint. Defendant alleged that Plaintiff was terminated for “engaging in a lengthy sexual relationship with a subordinate and by abusing her position with the University to provide that subordinate promotions, pay raises and bonuses.” Looking to the scope of conduct alleged in Plaintiff’s EEOC charge, the court found that Plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim was not “reasonably related” to her general allegations of age and sex discrimination. Further, equitable excuse could not save Plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim because her inquiry to the EEOC about adding claims that accrued “since the time” she initiated her charge did not encompass harassing conduct by her supervisor that occurred before her EEOC filing. As a result, Plaintiff could not show that but for her reliance on a mistaken response by an EEOC employee, she would have been able to file her sexual harassment claims. The court further found Plaintiff’s retaliation claim time-barred, since Plaintiff filed her cause of action outside the three-year statute of limitations. Moreover, Plaintiff’s retaliation claim could not proceed under equitable tolling because doing so denied Defendant timely notice of the claim.

Title IX; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; First Amendment & Free Speech; Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Due Process; Constitutional Issues

Hyman v. Cornell Univ. (2nd Cir., May 9, 2018)

Summary Order affirming the judgment of the district court.  Hyman (Plaintiff) sued Cornell University and seventeen other University employees (Defendants) alleging First Amendment and Title IX violations when her report of sexual harassment against one of the Defendants was dismissed and when she was sanctioned by the school for harassing him.  Plaintiff’s suit was dismissed by the district court as barred by res judicata because her claims relied on the same operative facts as a previous suit she had filed against the University and one of the named Defendants.  Plaintiff appealed both the dismissal and denial of reconsideration by the district court.  Plaintiff attempted to overcome res judicata by pointing to additional allegations in the suit that post-date her first suit and by naming sixteen additional defendants in the suit that were not named in the first.  The court found that the addition of new facts were from substantially the same transaction or occurrence and even though they post-date the first claim, do not amount to a new claim.  In addition, citing the principle of privity, the court found that the naming of sixteen additional defendants did not overcome claim preclusion because all the named defendants are “[University] professors and administrators whose ‘interests were adequately represented’ by [the University] in the first suit.”  The court found no error in the district court’s denial of reconsideration.

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

Sheil v. Horton (Ohio Ct. Cl. April 16, 2018)

Report and recommendation from the Ohio State Court of Claims concluding that the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation (“Tri-C Foundation”) – a tax exempt, nonprofit entity created to solicit, receive, and hold public contributions for the benefit of Cuyahoga Community College (“Tri-C”) – is subject to Ohio’s Public Records Act. Requester Sheil alleged that respondent Horton, the Media Relations Manager at Tri-C, denied access to public records by rejecting his request for a copy of a contract between Tri-C Foundation and an actress for a speaking engagement. Horton argued that Tri-C Foundation was not subject to the public records act because it was not the functional equivalent of a public entity, and that, even if it were, the contract constituted a trade secret. Applying the “functional equivalency” test in State ex rel. Oriana House, Inc. v. Montgomery, the court concluded that all factors weighed in favor of finding that Tri-C Foundation was the functional equivalent of a public office. Even were it not the functional equivalent of a public office, Tri-C Foundation and Horton were subject to the act as “person[s] responsible for public records.” Horton’s trade secret argument failed because he failed to show that any material in the requested contract constituted a trade secret.

Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Disability Discrimination; Discrimination, Accommodation, & Diversity

Ticer v. Young, et al. (N.D. Cal. May 4, 2018)

Order granting-in-part and denying-in-part Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a disabled student who was prone to “debilitating fear and anxiety related to other people,” alleged under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and state law that San Jose State University (SJSU) discriminated against him and intentionally inflicted emotional distress (IIED) while he attended its engineering program. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Young—a professor in the Biomedical, Chemical, and Material Engineering department—refused to reasonably accommodate his disability and subjected him to years of disparaging and discouraging remarks, which resulted in his taking a medical leave of absence, his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, and his disqualification from the engineering program without notice. At issue was whether Plaintiff’s disability discrimination and tort claims were subject to equitable tolling due to his mental disability and lack of notice about his disqualification. After reviewing the relevant case law, the court distinguished Plaintiff’s circumstances from the high bar of “incapacitation” required to benefit from equitable tolling. Namely, Plaintiff did not assert in his complaint that despite knowing his legal rights, he failed to bring his claims because of his mental disability. However, the court allowed Plaintiff’s claim based on his disqualification without notice to proceed since it was not challenged by Defendants, while also allowing Plaintiff to amend his IIED claim to clarify that he wished to hold SJSU vicariously liable. 

Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration; Practice of Higher Education Law

Fryberger v. Univ. of Ark. and Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ark. (8th Cir. May 2, 2018)

Judgment affirming the district court’s partial denial of Appellants’ Motion to Dismiss. Appellee, a University of Arkansas (UA) student, sought compensatory damages under Title IX based on Appellants’ handling of her report of sexual assault on campus. Appellants sought dismissal based on sovereign immunity, arguing on appeal that its receipt of Title IX federal funds was not an “unequivocally expressed” consent to be sued for damages under the Remedies Equalization Act. Addressing Appellants’ reliance on the recent Supreme Court decision Sossamon v. Texas, which required “clear declaration” by the state of its intent to waive sovereign immunity, the court found that the REA “clearly and unambiguously expresses [UA]’s consent to Title IX suits for damages” and UA’s receipt of federal funds was in fact consent for compensatory damages for Title IX violations.

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.