Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Can't be sued for a 'C' grade

Law professors heaved a collective sigh of relief after reading about the judgment of a New York court last week in the case of Keefe v. New York Law School. The suit was brought by a disgruntled law student (who represented himself in the proceedings, apparently not having heard of that old saying about a lawyer who represents himself having a fool for a client) over a 'C' grade awarded to him in a legal writing class.

The gravamen of the claim was that "NYLS breached an implied contract with him through statements on the NYLS website that require NYLS to act in good faith and fair dealing." Keefe alleged that the "C" grade "was arbitrarily awarded" and bizarrely asked the court to order NYLS to "change its grading system from its current letter system to a pass/fail system, similar to that of Yale Law School." Boggles the mind.

The implied contract argument was supposedly based on language contained on NYLS's website. The decision mentions "the right program for every student" as one of the phrases relied on by the plaintiff to make his claim. This seems to be a terribly vague basis for a lawsuit.

The court was unsympathetic: "a student must identify specific language in the school's bulletins, circulars, catalogues and handbooks which establishes the particular "contractual" right or obligation alleged by the student in order to make out an implied contract claim. General statements of policy are not sufficient to create a contractual obligation. Only specific promises that are material to the student's relationship with the school can establish the existence of an implied contract. In the case at bar, Plaintiff fails to cite any specific provision or communication from NYLS that would establish an implied contract. One cannot breach a contractual promise that was never made. Plaintiff fails to point to any document or communication that gives rise to a promise which NYLS has breached." (internal citations omitted)

The court also correctly denied the plaintiff's plea to change NYLS's grading system. It held: "As a general rule, judicial review of grading disputes would inappropriately involve the courts in the very core of academic and educational decision making. Moreover, to so involve the courts in assessing the propriety of particular grades would promote litigation by countless unsuccessful students and thus undermine the credibility of the academic determinations of educational institutions. We conclude, therefore, that, in the absence of demonstrated bad faith, arbitrariness, capriciousness, irrationality or a constitutional or statutory violation, a student's challenge to a particular grade or other academic determination relating to a genuine substantive evaluation of the student's academic capabilities is beyond the scope of judicial review. ...NYLS clearly communicated through the student handbook that NYLS utilizes a letter grading system under which all of its students are evaluated. This Court declines to interfere with this quintessential function of an educational institution."