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; 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.

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

Koul v. University of Rochester, et al. (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 25, 2018)

Decision and Order granting Defendant University’s Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff, a part-time clinical faculty member at the University of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital, alleged that the University breached its employment contract with Plaintiff by failing to follow certain policies and procedures in its Handbook and Regulations before terminating Plaintiff’s one-year term appointment. The court found that Plaintiff failed to state a claim for breach of contract because the Handbook afforded the  University broad discretion to renew or decline to renew Plaintiff’s appointment. 

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

John Doe v. Columbia College Chicago, et al. (N.D. Ill. Jan. 22, 2018)

Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a Columbia College Chicago (CCC) student who was suspended for sexual assault and who unsuccessfully brought Title IX claims against CCC, sought to amend the complaint to include a claim for breach of contract against CCC for purportedly violating its own policies. The court determined Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim “failed to allege that CCC’s actions or decisions were arbitrary or capricious, that they were without rational basis, or that they were a substantial departure from academic norms” since Plaintiff was provided notice and investigative materials in advance of his hearing, CCC’s investigation was prompt and thorough, CCC’s Panel considered the evidence in reaching its decision, and there was no indication that CCC treated male students accused of harassment differently than female students. 

Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law

Wilson v. Northland College (D. Wis. Jan. 9, 2018)

Opinion and Order granting Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss with prejudice. Plaintiff resigned as athletic director and head women’s basketball coach at Northland College, after he was investigated for two separate sexual harassment complaints.  He brought breach of contract, invasion of privacy, and negligent supervision claims against the College after the College’s radio station broadcast a series of interviews relating to the alleged misconduct and published related content online.  The court dismissed Plaintiff’s contract claim because he failed to identify any term in his separation agreement that would have prevented a university employee from reporting on statements made by students about Plaintiff’s conduct.  The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s tort claims, since the radio broadcasts and online publications did not disclose any public content, and since Plaintiff failed to identify a duty to support his negligent supervision claim.

Collective Bargaining; Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law; Faculty & Staff

Asberry v. Los Angeles Community College District, et al. (Cal. Ct. App. 2d Jan. 3, 2018)

Order reversing the decision of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.  Plaintiff, an adjunct faculty member at Los Angeles Southwest Collage (LASC), alleged that LASC breached the collective bargaining agreement with Plaintiff’s union when LASC neglected to assign her to teach a second class over a 10-year period.  Plaintiff also brought a claim of promissory estoppel, alleging that the college’s Vice President for Academic Affairs promised to compensate her in the amount of $50,000 for the alleged oversight.  The appeals court found that the trial court had weighed too heavily the characterization of the action as one of tortious misrepresentation.  Rather, the court found that Plaintiff’s claims sounded in contract, not tort, and thus that the Defendants were not immune from suit.  

Contract Administration; Practice of Higher Education Law

Jane Does 1-10, et al. v. University of Washington, et al. (W.D. Wash. Nov. 30, 2017)

Order Reissuing Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction. Plaintiffs—consisting of individuals, staff members, and medical researchers who advocate for women’s access to reproductive health care services such as abortions and/or who engage in activities critical to fetal tissue medical research—asked that the Defendant University of Washington (UW) be enjoined from releasing their personally identifying information in response to a request under the Washington State Public Records Act for "all documents that relate to the purchase, transfer, or procurement of human fetal tissues, human fetal organs, and/or human fetal cell products at the [UW] Birth Defects Research Laboratory from 2010 to present." The court under remand from the Ninth Circuit found that Plaintiffs presented a high likelihood of success on the merits because their association with various employers and organizations constituted a First Amendment protected activity and additionally, there was a reasonable probability that compelled disclosure of their personally identifying information would subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals that would result in a chilling effect on their protected activity. Rounding out its analysis, the court found that Plaintiffs showed that they would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction, the public interest weighed in favor of issuing an injunction, and the balance of equities tipped “sharply” in favor of Plaintiffs.

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.