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Can I sue a private university for breach of contract?

New Haven, CT |
Filed under: Education law

Some time after matriculation my university made a new graduation requirement of passing a board exam. The school has a 7 year time frame for completing the degree. I am a primary care giver for my baby & cannot meet the new requirement in time. What can I do?

Attorney Answers 4

Posted

This is a difficult question, primarily because the issue must be resolved with reference to material provided to you or published/furnished at the time that you enrolled and -- most probably -- at each time (new term) that you renewed your enrollment by new tuition payments or agreements. Most likely, the university expressly and explicitly has reserved the right to revise or modify degree requirements from time to time, and your enrollment agreement most likely accepted that reservation as part of the terms and conditions for admission to the school. And it is a fact that colleges and universities must have the discretion and power to revise degree requirements periodically in order for the degrees they issue to be meaningful in the marketplace and in academia. Schools simply can't maintain their original graduation standards in perpetuity and it is the nature of the service that universities provide that some students will always be in progress toward their degrees whenever revised degree requirements are implemented. Still, there is a decent argument to be made that fairness and equity requires that students who began their coursework under one set of degree requirements be "grand-fathered" and not have the mandatory agenda changed on them mid-course. Many institutions would either take that position initially themselves, or would allow affected students to petition for that status.

Assuming that your school made the kind of reservation of rights that is standard practice, I suggest that you try to work this out with a personal appeal to school administrators rather than by recourse to a lawsuit. Courts give universities and colleges a large degree of deference in their management of student affairs -- particularly in issues of academic standards and degree requirements. So you cannot count o a favorable result in a lawsuit. And a lawsuit would be expensive and potentially very time-consuming (2+years) for you. But often what cannot be compelled by law can be had by persuasion-- persuasion by you or even by an attorney on your behalf. There are any number of subjective factors that might factor into the school's consideration of a request that the new degree requirement be waived in your case, including your grades and progress and your standing in your department. It may also be helpful to your efforts to research how comparable universities manage these kinds of transitions and to present that data to your school. I can't predict the outcome of such efforts at persuasion and negotiation, of course. But I think that is the correct starting place for you on this matter.

Of course, you also need to consider and research whether the new degree requirement is one that is externally imposed by the legislature or by a state licensing board in your professional field. If that is the case, you will need to examine the statute or agency rule to determine whether your school has any power to make any accommodation for you. If not, you will need to figure out some way to meet the degree requirements as they stand now.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

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Posted

Attorney Mccall gave you a very complete answer. Permit me to simplify, in answer to your original question; "Can I sue a private university for breach of contract?" Probably not.

You have not identified what the university agreed to do that they have not. As Attorney Mccall pointed out, the university probably reserved the right to change requirements. Even if they did not reserve this right, they will argue that they are still willing to teach you and that impracticability due to your circumstances is beyond their control.

I do hope you and this school can work things out. Good luck.

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Posted

Both attorneys who answered this question gave very complete answers. I do not necessarly agree that you can not sue the College because you can but the outcome for you is suspect. Go to a lawyer with all of your paperwork and pay the money for a consultation it's worth it.

The advice offered is based only on the information provided and not to be construed to create an attorney relationship. I will allways give you a free consultation, so we can discuss all the facts of your case call us anytime at 718-263-6800

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1 comment

Todd Bruce Kotler

Todd Bruce Kotler

Posted

My point exactly. Of course, any one can sue for anything they please but then again, whether a suit has merit is anothere matter.

Posted

You can sue a private university. The outcome will depend on the facts. It is probable that the university has protected itself, but not certain. I think it would be worthwhile to meet with an attorney and present your documents. It may also be helpful to have the attorney assist you with asking the university to make an exception for you. The presence of an attorney conveys a level of determination that may be given more careful consideration.

I wrote this to help you and others who may face issues like yours in the future. I hope you find my response to be helpful and informative. If you do, please click the thumbs up icon. If this is your question and you find my answer to be the most helpful, please click best answer. I appreciate feedback. My answer is not legal advice and does not establish a client/attorney relationship. The question may not be a complete or accurate description of the problem and there is no chance to ask a follow up question. It is impossible to give complete advice without a thorough discussion of the facts, such as we would have during an initial consultation. Further, laws are different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and are subject to change. So, please, do not act on any information provided without consulting with a lawyer licensed to practice in your jurisdiction who has experience with the kind of issues that concern you.

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2 comments

Asker

Posted

Thank you for all of your comments. I contacted the school but they are not replying. The school did protect themself by having a clause saying that they reserve the right to change their policies. I found out some classmates received their diplomas without passing the boards while others didn't. Would this change the scenario?

James C Wing JR

James C Wing JR

Posted

That information is helpful to your cause, but may not be dispositive. I still recommend that you see an education attorney.

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