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.

Selected Topics: Students
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Financial Aid; Students; Foreign Students

Barrett v. Regents of the University of California (Cal. App. May 15, 2018)

Unpublished Opinion affirming Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff, a student at the University of California (UC) Berkeley School of Law, alleged that UC breached its employment contract with Plaintiff by failing to award her tuition remission for work that she performed as a reader in the Academic Student Employee (ASE) program. Preliminarily, the court affirmed dismissal since public employment in California is governed by statute, and not contract.  Moreover, Plaintiff could not proceed on an alternative theory of liability because UC Berkeley’s policies expressly specified that graduate students in “self-supporting” programs, such as the LL.M program in which the Plaintiff was enrolled, were ineligible for tuition remission.  

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.

Student Organizations; Practice of Higher Education Law; Students; Litigation, Mediation & Arbitration

UWM Student Association, et al. v. Lovell (7th Cir. April 25, 2018)

Order affirming the dismissal of all claims against certain Defendants and vacating the dismissal of count five and seven against remaining Defendants. Plaintiffs, consisting of former and current students of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), alleged that Defendants—consisting of UWM’s former chancellor, the Board of Regents, numerous university administration officials, and other UWM students—“conspired to interfere with student governance” by unseating elected officers and replacing them with a “puppet” student government.  Plaintiffs alleged that these actions gave rise to claims of due process, First Amendment retaliation, interference with the right to organize, violations of  Wisconsin’s Public Records Law, and  religious freedom. The court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendants who were not timely served with process, while Plaintiffs’ right-to-organize claim under state law was dismissed as being moot. Although the court found that the district court did not err in finding misjoinder, it vacated and remanded its decision because the proper remedy for such a finding is severance or dismissal without prejudice, and not dismissal with prejudice.

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.

Students; Academic Misconduct

Karimi v. Golden Gate School of Law, et al. (N.D. Cal. April 23, 2018)

Order denying Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction and Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). Plaintiff, a law student at Golden Gate University School of Law (GGUSL) who proceeds pro se, was placed on interim suspension and charged pursuant to GGUSL’s Code of Conduct with disruptive or unprofessional conduct relating to his repeatedly emailing classmates through an instruction-specific tool, among other reasons. Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction and a TRO to refund his tuition and to bar GGUSL’s pending conduct proceeding against him.   The court denied Plaintiff’s request to refund his tuition since monetary harm does not constitute irreparable injury, and thus is not properly awarded as injunctive relief. The court further found that Plaintiff’s claims did not support the injunction he sought, since he could not show irreparable harm or a likelihood of success on the merits for his breach of contract, defamation, or IIED claims.
Title IX; FERPA; Sexual Misconduct & Other Campus Violence; Students; Freedom of Information & Public Record Laws; Practice of Higher Education Law

DTH Media Corp. v. Folt (N.C. App. April 17, 2018)

Order affirming-in-part and reversing-in-part the district court’s opinion.  Plaintiffs, North Carolina-based news organizations, filed requests under the state Public Information Act (PIA) to obtain information from the disciplinary records of students who had violated the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) sexual assault policy.  Specifically, Plaintiffs sought the names of students found responsible for violating the policy, the date and nature of each violation, and the sanctions imposed.  Plaintiffs argued that §1232g(b)(6)(B) of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which permits discourse of “the final results of any disciplinary proceeding . . . if the institution determines as a result of the disciplinary  that the student committed a violation of the institution’s rules or policies with respect to [crimes of violence or non-forcible sex offenses],” required disclosure; while Defendants argued that Plaintiff’s interpretation interfered with FERPA’s “implied grant of discretion” to UNC to decide whether to release student disciplinary records.  Finding no case law or legislative history supporting Defendant’s proposed interpretation of FERPA, the court concluded that the records were generally subject to disclosure, with the caveat that the dates of the offenses sought by Plaintiffs were not subject to disclosure under the plain language of the statute. The court also rejected Defendant’s contention that FERPA pre-empted the PIA. 


Donoso v. New York University (N.Y. App. Div. April 17, 2018)

Opinion affirming dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims.  Plaintiff alleged that New York University (NYU) breached a contract, violated his civil rights, an engaged in fraud when it revoked his admission to the Doctor of Juridical Science (JSD) Program based on poor academic performance in his LLM coursework.  Under New York law, claims related to academic determinations are subject to a 4-month statute of limitations.  Because Plaintiff filed the action nearly eight months after he was notified of NYU’s determination to withdraw his admission to the JSD program, the action was time-barred.  Regarding Plaintiff’s non-academic allegations, the court affirmed dismissal because the allegations stated in the complaint were refuted by the documents attached to the complaint.

FERPA; Students; Collective Bargaining; Faculty & Staff

Serv. Emps. Int’l Union Local 503 v. University of Oregon (Or. App. April 4, 2018)

Opinion affirming the decision of the Employment Relations Board. Respondent, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 58, alleged that Petitioner, the University of Oregon (UO), violated state law by refusing to disclose the names of student witnesses who provided information used by UO to terminate and reprimand two of its employees. The relevant state statute required public employers to “bargain in good faith” with an exclusive employee representative by promptly providing relevant grievance information. UO argued that disclosure of the student witnesses’ identities violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which was consistent with advice from the Family Policy Compliance Office. However, an administrative law judge determined that the withheld information was not protected by FERPA, while the Employment Relations Board (ERB), through a separate determination based on an assumption that the withheld information was protected by FERPA, found that UO violated the state statute because it failed to consider accommodations that would have satisfied both its obligations under FERPA and SEIU’s right to the information, such as seeking each students’ consent for disclosure. The court affirmed the ERB’s decision, concluding that UO’s efforts were “too minimal to meet its obligations” under the relevant state law.