Appeals Court: No 'Duty of Good Faith' in Student-College Relationship

April 26, 2016

A federal appeals court on Monday issued a straightforward ruling rejecting a former student's lawsuit accusing Southern Methodist University of breaching its obligation to treat him fairly. While the appeals panel's conclusion may be perfectly sound legal theory, its core finding -- that "Texas law does not impose a duty of good faith and fair dealing in the student-university relationship" -- probably wouldn't be how most institutions would market themselves to students.

The former student, Daniel Hux, was dropped from an advising position at SMU and ultimately removed from campus and kicked out of the university after a series of incidents involving allegations of sexual harassment and possession of a gun. He sued SMU, and the appeals court was asked to consider one of his claims, which was that the university breached its obligation under Texas law to behave in good faith and fair dealing. The appeals court concluded, however, that the nature of the relationship between a university and its students does not rise to the "special" level that meets the state law's test for requiring an entity to treat parties that way.

"Hux’s claims demonstrate at most the sort of unilateral, purely subjective sense of trust that Texas courts have determined is insufficient to convert an ordinary arm’s-length relationship into a special or confidential relationship," the appeals panel wrote. "The mere fact that one party to a transaction trusts the other or believes that the other has his interests at heart does not create a special relationship. Hux’s allegations, even if true, show nothing more than his own unilateral trust and belief in the administrators’ beneficence."

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