STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Cardinal Stritch University,
Filed May 29, 2001
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 004991
Gary B. Bodelson, 247 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55415 (for appellant)
Corey J. Ayling, Kathleen M. Brennan, McGrann Shea Anderson Carnival Straughn & Lamb, Chartered, 2600 U.S. Bancorp Center, 800 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
S Y L L A B U S
1. Common law imposes a duty on the part of private universities not to expel students in an arbitrary manner.
2. A student handbook does not constitute a contract between a university and a student requiring strict compliance with every provision.
O P I N I O N
SCHUMACHER, ROBERT H., Judge
Appellant Bruce Rollins challenges adverse summary judgment, arguing that the district court erred in ruling against his common law and contractual claims for expulsion from respondent Cardinal Stritch University (CSU). We affirm.
CSU is a private institution of post-secondary education, whose College of Business and Management (CBM) provides undergraduate and master's degrees in business and management. CBM facilitates degree completion for working adults at various locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin. CBM's Region III office is located in Edina, Minnesota.
In January 1999, Rollins enrolled in a two-year Bachelor of Science degree program in business and management in CBM's Region III. One of the features of the degree program is that students are assigned to a specific "cohort group." The students in the cohort group usually progress through the CBM program together towards their degree. The cohort group concept requires ongoing interaction among the students in the cohort group, as well as the development of a collegial and cooperative relationship amongst those students.
On October 27, 1999, Rollins sent an unsolicited e-mail message to a female classmate. The e-mail had an image of "kissing lips" when it was opened and contained a text message, "FOR THE MAN (OR WOMEN) IN YOUR LIFE." The female classmate forwarded the message to a teacher, stating that she did not know Rollins and that she was not sure why he sent her the e-mail. She further stated that Rollins gave her "the creeps" and his off-color remarks in class made her uncomfortable. The teacher then forwarded the message to Dr. Patrick Sheedy, the Assistant Dean for Operations in Region III, and Douglas Gorsuch, an Educational Counselor in Region III, telling them that Rollins had made numerous inappropriate comments in class and requesting that they look into the matter.
Sheedy asked Gorsuch to contact Rollins and set up a meeting. On December 6, 1999, Gorsuch contacted Rollins and asked him to come into the office to discuss some issues. Gorsuch suggested Rollins could meet with him before class on December 7, 1999, but Rollins declined. On December 10, 1999, Rollins came into the office and Sheedy and Gorsuch talked to him about his behavior in and outside of class. Sheedy informed Rollins that Sheedy had received information that indicated that his remarks in class and outside of class made some of his classmates feel uncomfortable. Sheedy told Rollins that he needed to refrain from any offensive behavior or comments. Rollins responded by threatening to sue the school. Sheedy then ended the meeting.
In January 2000, Rollins continued sending unsolicited e-mails to numerous members of the cohort group. On January 7, 2000, Rollins sent the same female classmate an e-mail referencing the complaint about the kissing lips e-mail and stating, "I don't think you would turn me in, but I sure would rest easier hearing it from you." She forwarded the e-mail to a fellow classmate stating, "What would you do if you were me? I got this from Bruce today. HELP!!!".
On January 18, 2000, Rollins forwarded to several female classmates an e-mail exchange with another classmate concerning the complaint about the kissing lips e-mail. On January 21, 2000, one of the female classmates responded to Rollins's January 18 e-mail and requested that he stop sending her unsolicited e-mails, copying the message to several classmates and CBM administrators. Rollins responded by sending an e-mail stating that she was "incorrect when you say you have ask [sic] me not to e-mail you" and inquiring why he was a target of her "vendetta." The classmate forwarded Rollins's response to Sheedy and requested intervention as soon as possible.
On January 31, 2000, Rollins sent the same female classmate an e-mail, without comment, containing news accounts of a recent federal district court decision holding that free speech protected a college student from criminal charges stemming from an Internet posting about the fantasy kidnapping and torture-murder of a female classmate. On February 1, 2000, the classmate forwarded Rollins's January 31, 2000 e-mail to Sheedy. According to his affidavit, Sheedy was "immediately alarmed that Rollins would send an e-mail to [the classmate] when she had specifically told him that she did not want to receive any unsolicited e-mail messages from him." Sheedy was "even more alarmed that the message Rollins sent to [the classmate] concerned a story about a male college student who had written about the fantasy kidnapping and torture-murder of a female classmate." Sheedy immediately contacted Christine Robinson, CSU's Interim Dean of Students, to discuss what action to take in response to Rollins's conduct. Robinson and Sheedy decided to suspend Rollins from class.
A February 1, 2000 letter from Robinson to Rollins informed him of his immediate suspension pending a formal hearing. The letter stated that over the course of a couple months Rollins had "been engaged