New Jersey Appellate Division Affirms Dismissal on an Issue of First Impression

March 19, 2024 in Firm News, News

NEWARK, N.J. – M. Trevor Lyons and David D. Cramer recently secured a victory in the Appellate Division on an issue of potential first impression, where the three-judge panel unanimously affirmed the dismissal of contract-based claims brought by a former tenured professor at a private university, who was dismissed for-cause.

After receiving numerous student complaints over the course of eight years, the private university dismissed the plaintiff from tenured employment pursuant to the for-cause dismissal proceedings set forth in the university’s faculty handbook. Importantly, the agreed-upon procedures set forth in the faculty handbook vested the final decision to remove a tenured professor with the university’s Board of Trustees (the “Board”).  The trial court granted the university’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the Board properly followed its own internal procedures, there was sufficient evidence in the record to support the Board’s decision, and given the language of the faculty handbook and that the decision to dismiss for-cause was primarily an academic decision, the Board’s decision was entitled to substantial deference.

On appeal, the plaintiff sought de novo review of the Board’s decision, arguing that the Board did not satisfy the evidentiary standard contemplated by the faculty handbook.  The university countered that, in light of the deference that courts have previously applied to decisions of academic import made by universities, the court should apply the same standard of review applicable to agency decisions—that is, the Board’s decision should be upheld unless it is found to be arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable.

The appellate panel noted that courts in New Jersey had not addressed the standard of review for internal decisions of private universities and adopted the agency standard of review for such decisions.  Applying that standard to the facts of this case, the Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of the lawsuit.

The case is Chee Ng v. Fairleigh Dickinson University, case number A-0089-22.