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Can you sue a university for fraud, breach of contract and academic integrity?

Washington, DC |

If a University has not provided any academic support, delivered on promises and violated the student handbook, can I get my tuition back?

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Attorney answers 1


Can you sue your university for fraud, breach of contract or other claims based on violations of academic integrity? Because anyone can sue anyone for anything, the critical legal question is whether you can successfully sue the university on these contentions.

All lawsuits are premised on allegations that the defendant has breached a legal duty or obligation to the claimant. Universities are typically obligated to their students by provisions of law or by contract. If there is a law that you claim the university has breached and thereby caused damage to you, you can sue for that violation. These kinds of claims are not often successful because the laws governing the performance of universities and colleges are very general and are not intended for identifying specific obligations to students.

More typically students contend that a college or university has damaged the student by the failure to honor various contractual obligations. The student-school contract is ordinarily made up of the enrollment and admission materials and the rules and regulations of the school. But, if you review those materials carefully, you will almost inevitably find that the university has expressly and explicitly retained the right to depart from its regular rules and regs whenever the school in its judgment determines such departure or deviation to be necessary or prudent.

It is very unlikely that you can make a successful claim that the university owed you a contractual duty of academic support and breached that duty. Usually, there are too many factors of intervening student conduct and performance to enable proof on this kind of allegation. Also, courts traditionally honor a "hands-off" practice about matters pertaining to "academic affairs" because courts do not see the legal system as the place for disputes about grades or completion of degree requirements. These issues will almost always be left to the discretion and determination of the school.

As to the promises that you contend were not delivered on, you will need to be specific. Merely alleging such conduct doesn't come close to meeting the standard for a successful legal claim. If you have in mind omissions of performance such as reductions of course offerings, it is almost always the case that there is "contract" language which reserves to the school the right to make changes based on factors that the school considers important, such as enrollment rates or faculty availability. In practice, there are few specific omissions of performance that will enable a successful claim of breach of performance against a college or university.

Violating the student handbook is a sound theory of breach of contract except that the handbook will explicitly state that the university may do so when it chooses or thinks necessary-- so that is almost never a productive claim for the student.

If your university was a private school, rather than a public one, the legal prospects for a successful claim are even less promising.

If your tuition was paid by student loans, and not directly by you, the matter becomes even more complicated -- and unpromising for you -- because the lenders are not responsible for any breaches of the university's obligations to you. Your financial liability to the lenders will not be cancelled or diminished by claims of breach of contract by the university.

You should consult with a skilled and experienced attorney about the specifics of your claim. It is unfortunate that the overall message here is not encouraging. In fact, students are very inadequately served by the balance of legal rights in these circumstances.

Christine McCall, License Advocates Law Group LLP

No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as if they were legal advice. I give legal advice ONLY in the course of a formal 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 joint execution of a written agreement for legal services. My law firm does not provide free consultations. Please do not call or write to me with a “few questions” that require me to analyze the specific facts of your history and your license application and prescribe for you how to get a State license. Send me an email to schedule a paid Consultation for that kind of information, direction, and assistance. My law firm presently accepts cases involving State and federal licenses and permits; discipline against State and federal licenses; and disciplinary and academic challenges to universities, colleges, boarding schools, and private schools. We take cases of wrongful termination or employment discrimination only if the claims involve peace officers, universities or colleges.

Bruce E. Burdick

Bruce E. Burdick


great answer.

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