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Brody v. Finch University of Health Sciences/ Chicago Medical School

July 31, 1998

JASON BRODY, YUAN CHEN, VIKAS GUPTA, NILESH HINGARH, SETH MAXWELL, YASMIN NIBBE, KIARASH SADRIEH, HOOMAN SHABATIAN, AND JOSH SUSSMAN, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
FINCH UNIVERSITY OF HEALTH SCIENCES/ THE CHICAGO MEDICAL SCHOOL, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE (KEVIN LOWE, PLAINTIFF). JASON BRODY, YUAN CHEN VIKAS GUPTA, NILESH HINGARH, SETH MAXWELL, YASMIN NIBBE, KIARASH SADRIEH, HOOMAN SHABATIAN, AND JOSH SUSSMAN, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
FINCH UNIVERSITY OF HEALTH SCIENCES/ THE CHICAGO MEDICAL SCHOOL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT (KEVIN LOWE, PLAINTIFF).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hutchinson

IN THE APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS SECOND DISTRICT

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County.

No. 97--CH--679

Honorable Emilio B. Santi, Judge, Presiding.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County

No. 97--CH--679

Honorable Emilio B. Santi, Judge, Presiding.

In July 1997 plaintiffs, Jason Brody, Yuan Chen, Vikas Gupta, Nilesh Hingarh, Kevin Lowe, Seth Maxwell, Yasmin Nibbe, Kiarash Sadrieh, Hooman Shabatian, and Josh Sussman, filed a complaint and petition for injunctive relief, seeking a temporary restraining order and an injunction against defendant, Finch University of Health Sciences/The Chicago Medical School. This litigation arises from plaintiffs' reliance on defendant's alleged representations and promises that those students who enrolled in defendant's Applied Physiology Program and received a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher would be admitted to defendant's medical school. Plaintiffs alleged that defendant's failure to abide by its alleged representations and promises constituted a breach of contract, common-law fraud, and a violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act (the Consumer Fraud Act) (815 ILCS 505/1 et seq. (West 1996)). After a bench trial, the trial court determined that no violation of common-law fraud or consumer fraud existed but found an implied contract existed between plaintiffs and defendant and that defendants breached the contract with plaintiffs. Following the denial of plaintiffs' posttrial motion, plaintiffs appeal the judgment entered in defendant's favor on the common-law and consumer fraud counts, and defendant appeals from the judgment entered in plaintiffs' favor on the contract claim. Plaintiff Lowe is not a party to the appeal. We have consolidated these two cases and hereby affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following facts. Plaintiffs were students enrolled in defendant's Master of Science and Applied Physiology Program (the Program) for the 1996-97 year. Tuition for the Program for 1996-97 was approximately $28,480. Defendant had a policy of giving serious consideration to those applied physiology students with a 3.0 GPA or better for admission to its medical school. Eighty students in the 1996-97 Program achieved a 3.0 GPA or better. Plaintiffs successfully completed their requirements under the Program and graduated with GPAs ranging from 3.2 to 3.6. On July 22, 1996, Timothy R. Hansen, Ph.D., associate dean for educational affairs and director of the Program, issued a memorandum to plaintiffs which stated that the medical school "[did] not expect to accept more than 50 students from the 1996-97 Applied Physiology class into the entering class in 1997." The "School of Graduate and PostDoctoral Studies Catalog" for 1995-96 states that defendant reserves the right to modify programs. However, it also states "modification of program requirements will not adversely affect those students already in a program." On or around June 26, 1997, Michael Booden, general counsel for defendant, informed the students' counsel that the medical school was accepting only the top 50 students from the Program. Booden stated that the class size of the medical school would consist of approximately 150 students. As of June 26, 1997, 50 applicants from the Program were offered admission to defendant's medical school.

On July 14, 1997, the bench trial commenced. Each of the plaintiffs testified at trial. These witnesses recounted their communications with defendant, their employment prior to enrolling in defendant's program, and their circumstances before and after enrolling in the Program. The trial testimony reflected that all of the plaintiffs communicated numerous times with people working in defendant's admissions department. The admissions department routinely informed plaintiffs that, if they achieved a 3.0 or better GPA, they would have a 90 to 95% chance of obtaining admission to defendant's medical school. Some of the plaintiffs visited the campus and spoke with Dr. Hanson and Dr. Booden, dean of defendant's medical school, who also indicated to those plaintiffs that, historically, a GPA of 3.0 was enough to get accepted into its medical school. Some plaintiffs telephoned former graduates of the Program who were subsequently admitted to defendant's medical school. This listing of former graduates was provided to prospective students, who were encouraged to contact these individuals with their questions about the Program.

Between May and June 1996 six of the plaintiffs received letters from defendant offering them admission into the Program; thereafter, those plaintiffs forwarded their seat deposits. The other three plaintiffs each received telephone calls from the admissions department on July 12, 16,and 17, 1996. To confirm their acceptance, they were advised not to send a deposit but rather to simply show up on July 22 and "everything else would be taken care of."

All but one plaintiff were employed prior to enrolling in the Program; their salaries ranged from approximately $20,000 to $150,000. All but one plaintiff relocated to the Chicago area; one plaintiff returned to Illinois from the Caribbean where he was attending another medical school. At least five plaintiffs gave up opportunities at other educational institutions to enroll in the Program. During the relocation process, plaintiffs signed leases to rent apartments.

Plaintiffs called Dr. Hansen as an adverse witness. Hansen testified that the medical school did not have a past policy of limiting acceptance to only 50 students from the Program into the medical school. Defendant decided to make this an "official" policy approximately two weeks before the first day of orientation. Hansen agreed that plaintiffs and the other students in the Program were not informed of this policy change until they received the memorandum on July 22. Hansen stated that the medical school would not consider more than 50 students from the Program, "no matter what." Hansen admitted, though, that all plaintiffs in the instant cause were academically qualified.

Theodore Booden, dean of defendant's medical school, also testified as an adverse witness. He agreed that the decision to limit acceptance to 50 Program students was made just a few weeks prior to the first day of orientation. Booden stated that creating a memorandum was the "fair thing to do." His premise was that the students had to know before they registered or paid tuition.

Booden was recalled to testify on behalf of defendant. Booden discussed the historical perspective of the Program. The Program was "built on a premise of compassion and understanding that we thought there were those out there highly qualified who were being rejected" from medical school. Booden opined that defendant should give those students "an opportunity to prove that they were capable of handling the curriculum" in the hopes they would be accepted into medical school, either defendant's or another. Booden testified that in recent years defendant had received an abundance of qualified applicants applying to the medical school from outside the Program. Booden felt that the medical school "should raise the bar" and take only the very best, leading to the Conclusion and the ultimate decision to limit acceptance of Program graduates to 50 students. Dr. Hansen next testified on behalf of defendant. He stated that, in answering prospective applicants' questions regarding the Program and subsequent admissibility to defendant's medical school, his "set practice" would be to inform students that the medical school would consider the Program graduates in the same light as all other applicants. For example, the medical school would consider their academic record and their noncognitive abilities in terms of behavior, motivation, demonstrated interest in medicine, interview scores, and faculty feedback on behavior. On cross-examination, Hansen admitted that he could not recall telling any specific prospective applicant about his "set practice."

Dana Frederick testified regarding her procedure when telephone or other inquiries were made relative to acceptance into the Program and medical school. She would tell prospective applicants that they would receive a master's degree in applied physiology if they completed the Program with a 3.0 GPA. As far as acceptance into the medical school, the admissions committee would consider their academic performance and the interview, but there were no guarantees. Frederick testified that early in spring she began informing potential students that the academic criteria for admission to the medical school would be changing. She testified that, once Dr. Hansen informed her of the new medical school acceptance policy, she began conveying this information to prospective applicants and individuals already accepted into the Program, as well as to last-minute admittees. She stated that she informed plaintiffs Hingarh, Sadrieh, and Nibbe of the change in admissions to the medical school.

On cross-examination, Frederick agreed that she was often asked what academic criteria were needed to gain admission to defendant's medical school. Frederick admitted that she could have informed applicants that, historically, a ...


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