Wednesday, December 02, 2009

contracts - student handbook

Tran v. State System of Higher Eduction - Cmwlth. Court - December 2, 2009

Nursing student at state university sued school for improperly dismissing her from the program, in violation of the terms set out in the student handbook.

The court held that the handbook "does not constitute a bilateral contract by which the University was bound. The cases relied upon by establish the existence of such a contract involved private college students pursuing contract damages against private colleges and universities for averred violations of the disciplinary procedures in the respective student handbooks. Pennsylvania Courts have held consistently that the relationship between a student and a privately funded college is “strictly contractual in nature.” Reardon, 926 A.2d at 480; see also Barker v. Bryn Mawr College, 278 Pa. 121, 122, 122 A. 220, 221 (1923); Psi Upsilon of Philadelphia v. University of Pennsylvania, 591 A.2d 755, 758 (Pa. Super. 1991); Boehm v. University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary 7 Medicine, 573 A.2d 575, 579 (Pa. Super. 1990); Morein v. Drexel University, 44 Pa. D. & C. 4th 13 (2000); Smith v. Gettysburg College, 22 Pa. D. & C. 3d 607 (1982); and Eter v. College Misericordia, 28 Pa. D. & C. 3d 402 (1982). (emphasis in original).

Commonwealth Court "has declined to construe the student handbook of a public university as a contract between the public university and the student. Crabtree v. California University of Pennsylvania, 606 A.2d 1239, 1240 n. 3 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1990). Accordingly, because the University is a public entity, we conclude that the Handbook did not constitute a contract between Petitioner and the University. Rather, the Handbook set forth the administrative procedures and remedies available and, if the University failed to follow those procedures and remedies, Petitioner could have, and should have, appealed the University’s determinations.

Query: What is the basis for distinguishing private v. public here?