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Yarcheski v. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey

December 9, 2008


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. C-358-06.

Per curiam.


Submitted September 25, 2008

Before Judges Winkelstein, Fuentes and Gilroy.

Plaintiff Thomas Yarcheski appeals from the order of the Chancery Division, General Equity Part, dismissing his cause of action against defendant the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey ("the University"), its Board of Trustees, and three individuals affiliated with the University. After permitting the parties to engage in discovery, the court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiff now appeals arguing, inter alia, that the motion judge erred: (1) by not recusing himself from hearing this matter; (2) by failing to find that there was an enforceable contract between himself and the University; (3) by not holding that the actions of the University and the other named defendants amounted to a breach of that contract, entitling him to injunctive relief and monetary damages. After reviewing the record before us and in light of prevailing legal standards, we reject these arguments and affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Levy.


In the summer of 2005, plaintiff matriculated in the University's Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program. Part of the information plaintiff received upon enrollment was the University's course catalog, which describes the courses offered in the Program. The front page of this document contains the following statement:

This catalog (or bulletin or handbook, or other document) is informational only and does not constitute a contract between UMDNJ and any student. It may be changed by UMDNJ without prior notice to students. Any rules, regulations, policies procedures or other representations made herein may be interpreted and applied by UMDNJ to promote fairness and academic excellence, based on the circumstances of each individual situation.

Plaintiff began his training in September 2005 by enrolling in "Nursing 301 Health Promotion in a Multicultural Society," a class taught by defendant Dr. Dula Pacquiao. This class is a prerequisite to all upper level courses. Dr. Pacquiao provided the students with a nine-page syllabus describing the goals of the class, and how student performance would be evaluated and graded.

Plaintiff became part of a six-student group charged with writing a paper followed by an oral presentation. The group chose "Chinese male with NIDDM" as the topic for discussion.

On November 23, 2005, plaintiff's group gave their oral presentation to the class. In Dr. Pacquiao's opinion, plaintiff's portion of the presentation and the accompanied handout had no relation to the topic selected by the group. After receiving complaints about plaintiff's presentation from the other members of the group, Dr. Pacquiao decided to give plaintiff a separate, individual grade.

Ultimately, Dr. Pacquiao gave plaintiff a zero for the oral presentation. She gave the following explanation for her decision:

This group [is] comprised of 6 members. The first 4 members presented their teaching project for a Chinese male elder . . . using the same set of slides. [Plaintiff] was the 2nd to the last presenter. He began by distributing a one-page handout and asked one of his group mates who was standing on the same side of the room with him to move with the rest of the group mates. Then he proceeded to speak to the three points in his handout. This presentation was totally irrelevant to the group's project. It did not address the criteria nor directions for the project as stated in the syllabus. The presentation focused more on questioning the validity of the teaching project as a course requirement and as a function of the nurse as well as the placement of the course in the curriculum. [Plaintiff's] group mates requested that his oral presentation be excluded in grading their presentation. They expected him to present the planning portion of the project and they were not informed ahead of time of any change in his plans. The decision by the group was put in writing and sent to [plaintiff] with a copy to the faculty. [Plaintiff's] oral presentation disregarded the teamwork required in a group project to achieve the objectives of the required, graded project. His presentation failed to contribute, ...

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