John Doe v. Washington & Lee University, 2020 WL 618836 (W.D. Va. Feb. 10, 2020)
02/25/2020John Doe was found responsible for sexual misconduct and sanctioned with a one-term suspension from Washington & Lee University (the “University”). Doe’s appeal was denied, and he was given three documents outlining his sanction and the process for reinstatement once his suspension was completed. These documents set out minimum requirements Doe was required to fulfill to be considered for reinstatement. However, the documents explicitly reserved the discretion to reject Doe’s application for reinstatement if continued separation was in the best interest of the student or the university. Doe was twice denied reinstatement, after which he filed an action in the Western District of Virginia alleging breach of implied contract, negligence, and violations of Title IX. The University moved to dismiss only the breach of contract and negligence claims.
Doe’s breach of implied contract claim was based upon the three documents he received following the denial of his appeal. Doe argued that an implied-in-law contract, also known as a “quasi-contract,” existed between him and the University. Because the documents explicitly retained full discretion whether to readmit Doe, the University had no duty to readmit Doe. The Court held that nothing in equity and good conscience demanded the imposition of an implied-in-law contract.
Doe also argued that payment of tuition gave rise to an implied-in-law contract with the University and gave rise to Doe’s expectation that the University would not prohibit him from earning his degree arbitrarily or in bad faith. However, under Virginia law, there is no implied contract between a student and a university simply because the student paid tuition. Even if such an implied contract existed, the University’s adjudicative process was sufficient to meet its duty under such a contract.
Finally, Doe’s negligence claim was dismissed because he failed to allege the existence of a legal duty. Virginia courts have rejected the argument that a special relationship exists between a university and a student.
The court granted the University’s motion to dismiss Doe’s claims for breach of contract and negligence.