The Complaint alleges that the nurse assigned by Viterbo to oversee Ms. Anderson's clinical course was not competent for the position and resented having to work for free. The nurse saw an opportunity to get out of the job by unfairly reporting Anderson's performance to Viterbo. The nurse ultimately quit the position, leaving Anderson without a nurse instructor. Anderson asserts that instead of forcing her to drop the course, Viterbo should have assigned a replacement, and it otherwise failed to give her a reasonable opportunity to clear herself.
The Complaint further alleges that the Viterbo kept the tuition Anderson paid for that course, and then made her pay again to retake the course, or she could not graduate. As a result of these actions, the student was unnecessarily delayed starting work as a nurse. She seeks damages for the unnecessary tuition and wage loss she incurred.
In arguing for dismissal, Viterbo's lawyers asserted that the courts of this country, citing public policy concerns, simply do not allow such claims by students against institutions of higher learning. It warned that allowing this case to go forward could "open the flood gates" of litigation by students.
I agreed that many courts have been reluctant to "second guess" teachers' evaluations of student performance. However, I clarified that Ms. Anderson was not asking the court to reassess her performance in the class. Instead, she paid for, and Viterbo had agreed to supply her with, an instructor for the course. It failed to do so at the outset, and it failed again when it did not provide a replacement after the instructor quit without cause. This breached Viterbo's implied obligation of good faith and fair dealing under the contract.
The judge agreed that the Complaint stated a legal claim against Viterbo, and that the case could go forward. The judge added that Viterbo could avoid "opening the flood gates" by changing the way it handles such situations.
My further thoughts:
The costs of higher education have skyrocketed in the past 15 years. The stakes are commensurately higher for the students. There have also been a proliferation of 'for profit' schools glad to take the student loan money. The courts, which have been generally reluctant to get involved in lawsuits against institutions of higher learning, will be rethinking and drawing the lines regarding what kinds of lawsuits are viable. I am happy to do my part.