Keefe v New York Law School

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[*1] Keefe v New York Law School 2009 NY Slip Op 52331(U) [25 Misc 3d 1228(A)] Decided on November 17, 2009 Supreme Court, New York County York, J. Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law ยง 431. This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.

Decided on November 17, 2009
Supreme Court, New York County

Timothy Keefe, Plaintiff,


New York Law School, Defendant.


Attorney for Plaintiff:

Mr. Timothy Keefe, Pro Se

400 Argyle Road Apt. LA6

Brooklyn, NY 11218

Tele. No. - None Listed

Attorney for Defendant:

Christopher J. Porzio, Esq.

The Law Offices of Nixon Peabody, LLP

50 Jericho Quadrangle, Suite 300

Jericho, NY 11753-2728

Tele. No. (516) 832-7500

Louis B. York, J.

Plaintiff, a current student at New York Law School, ("NYLS") is suing NYLS as a result of a "C" that Plaintiff received in his Legal Writing II course. Plaintiff now moves for an injunction requiring the law school to change its grading system from letter grades to pass/fail. Defendant/New York Law School moves to dismiss. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

Plaintiff attended Hofstra Law School from fall 2007 through summer 2008. Plaintiff asserts that because he is a transfer student, NYLS disadvantaged him by placing him in Legal Writing II in the spring semester of 2009. At NYLS, the legal writing curriculum is comprised of two courses: Legal Writing I and Legal Writing II.

Plaintiff further claims 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. Plaintiff maintains that the "C" he received was arbitrarily awarded and requests the relief that NYLS change its grading system from its current letter system to a pass/fail system, similar to that of Yale Law School.

NYLS asserts that the student handbook covers the method in which grades are calculated and addresses specific academic procedures for transfer students. It claims that the [*2]provisions from the website that Plaintiff utilizes to advance his arguments are misguided and taken out of context. Further, NYLS maintains that the court lacks the expertise and the jurisdiction to compel NYLS to change its grading procedures.

The Court will first address Plaintiff's implied contract claim. Plaintiff asserts that an implied contract was established with NYLS as a result of the language posted on the NYLS website, including phrases like "the right program for every student." Plaintiff alleges that an implied contractual relationship was created and that NYLS has failed to perform in good faith. NYLS denies the existence of any contractual agreement with Plaintiff and asserts that Plaintiff fails to bring any express language or communication between the school and himself that evidences the existence of any contract claim, express or implied.

Generally, New York State courts have permitted a student to bring a breach of implied contract action against an institution of higher education. See Radin v. Albert Einstein College of Med. Of Yeshiva Univ., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9772 at *30 (S.D.N.Y May 20, 2005). However, 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. See Sweeney v. Columbia Univ., 270, AD2d 335, 336 (2d Dep't 2000); Vought v. Teacher's Coll., Columbia Univ., 127 AD2d 654, 655 (2d Dep't 1987). 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. See Lloyd v. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 906, at *27-*28 (N.D.NY Jan, 26, 1999). "To state a valid claim for a breach of contract, a plaintiff must state when and how the defendant breached those specific promises. Radin, 2005 U.S. Dist LEXIS 9772, at *32.

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. Radin, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9772, at *37. Plaintiff fails to point to any document or communication that gives rise to a promise which NYLS has breached. See Chira v. Columbia Univ., 289 F. Supp. 2d 47, 485, 486 (S.D.N.Y 2003); Ward v. New York Univ., 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14067, at *10-*12 (S.D.NY Sept 25, 2000). Therefore the motion to dismiss the complaint is granted in its entirety.

Moreover, New York courts have repeatedly refused to interfere in the academic procedures of educational institutions and cannot and will not intervene in disputes involving an educational institution's grading system.

As the New York Court of Appeals has stated quite clearly in Susan M. v. New York Law School, 76 NY2d 241, 246-247 (1990).

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.

Plaintiff is requesting this Court to intrude upon an area to which New York Courts have [*3]strongly refused to intervene. Here, Plaintiff has shown no evidence of "bad faith, arbitrariness, capriciousness, irrationality or a constitutional or statutory violation." id. 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.

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED and ADJUDGED that this action is dismissed.


Dated: New York, New York____________________

November 17, 2009LOUIS B. YORK, J.S.C.

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