In Two Cases, Illinois Appellate Court Reaffirms Rule of Deference to Decisions of Academic Institutions

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In two recent decisions, the Illinois Appellate Court confirmed that Illinois courts are precluded, except in rare circumstances, from second-guessing the decisions of educational institutions regarding students. In both cases, the Appellate Court rejected pleas for mandatory injunctions that would have negated academic and administrative decisions of the particular institutions. And, in the first of the two cases, the Court affirmed, in strong and useful terms, the deferential “arbitrary and capricious” standard, which prohibits judicial review of student dismissal decisions unless the student shows that the decision lacked a “discernible rational basis.”

In Seitz-Partridge v. Loyola University of Chicago, a student was dismissed from Loyola University’s Ph.D. program in Molecular Biology for twice failing an examination required for admission into Ph.D. candidacy. The student sued for injunctive relief and damages, alleging breach of contract, defamation, and related torts. The mandatory injunctive relief that the student sought included expungement of any record of her failure of the examination; expungement of any references to her having committed plagiarism during the first examination; amendment of her academic record to reflect a passing grade on the examination; and a court order reinstating her into the Ph.D. program. The University and the faculty members who evaluated the student’s exam performance were represented by Scott Warner and Ellen Babbitt, now of Franczek Radelet.

The trial court dismissed the defamation per se claim during early stages of the litigation, struck the mandatory injunctive relief claims in their entirety, and granted summary judgment on behalf of the University on the student’s contract claims. The student appealed.

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