Tuesday, April 6, 2010

College of Medicine did not breach contract with student, appeals court rules

Case Western Reserve University did not breach its contract with a student when the school dismissed him from its medical school, the Eighth District Court of Appeals ruled last week.

In that case, the medical student was put on leave after failing four exams during his second year of medical school. He was also required to complete a program focusing on interpersonal communications skills and counseling. After completion of the program, the student would be considered for restarting his second year.

The student went on to repeat his second year at the medical school. However, he was referred to the Committee on Students in Spring 2005 after a faculty member wrote a letter complaining about his behavior in the faculty member's lab (2) an incident that had occurred earlier in his career in which a female student complained that he was harassing her and (3) the student's failure to remediate a failed exam. The Committee required the student to remediate the exam and submit a "fitness for duty" examination.

The fitness for duty exam concluded that the student had a personality disorder and had an inability to perceive or admit to his own mistakes. The report noted that the student believed himself to be superior, was unable to self-evaluate and self-criticize, and is interpersonally exploitative and lacks sympathy. The examiner viewed those traits as a "concern to anyone training a medical student."

Thereafter, the committee reviewed this and other information and decided to dismiss the medical student. He appealed his dismissal, though the committee's decision was ultimately upheld. A Dean of the medical school gave the student the option to withdraw before the letter dismissing him was issued. The student submitted a letter to the Dean withdrawing him, though he could not recall whether he was told that his record would reflect that he withdrew in lieu of dismissal.

The student then filed suit. He claimed that (1) Case was required to provide him with written notice of the grounds upon which the school intended to dismiss him, and with a hearing at which he could be present (2) there are material facts as to whether Case complied with its own contractual procedures in dismissing him.

As to these grounds, the court found that Case, as a private institution, owed no constitutional right of due process. Additionally, the court found that though there was custom to allow the student to be present during the Committee hearing, the custom did not rise to the leval of a contractual obligation.

Furthermore, the student requested declaratory judgment prohibiting the school from placing a notation on his file that he "withdrew in lieu of dismissal." The Court upheld the trial court's refusal to issue a declaratory judgment prohibiting such a notation on the file.

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