Class of 2019 v. 2016‒2017 Peer Advisors
323 U.Va. 1 (2019)
VanderMeulen, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Hopkin, Dostal, Malkowski, and Mann, JJ., joined. Malkowski, J., filed a concurring opinion.
Justice VanderMeulen delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question before the Court is whether there may be liability for Peer Advisors accused of defrauding the 1Ls entrusted to their care by telling them fanciful lies about law school. The plaintiffs, a class of graduating 3Ls, filed suit against their now-graduated former Peer Advisors seeking damages for fraud. The lower court dismissed the plaintiffs’ cause of action citing lack of jurisdiction. We now reverse.
For as long as anyone can remember, each class of 1Ls has been assigned a group of Peer Advisors (PAs) to mentor them, guide them, and provide them unheeded advice about the dangers of dating your sectionmates. These PAs are said to bring varying levels of comfort to their child-like mentees: Some students call their PAs “lifelong mentors and real-life friends” while others call them “Who?”
But it is not the merits of the PA system before the Court. At issue is the set of soothing statements programmatically made by PAs to frightened 1Ls throughout the duration of the PA–1L relationship. Plaintiffs, a class of graduating members of the Class of 2019, allege that these statements were fraudulent and that they suffered grave psychic and pecuniary damage as a result of their reliance on the statements. The lower court, Judge Davies presiding, dismissed plaintiffs’ claim for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that, because defendant former PAs no longer attend UVA Law, they cannot be held liable for any damages they might have inflicted on plaintiffs, citing our seminal holding in SBA v. Mahoney, 220 U.Va. 17, 23 (2016) for that proposition. (“Dean Mahoney doesn’t go here anymore, kids, stop trying to sue him for your student loans.”) Plaintiffs filed a timely appeal to this Court.
We can dispense with the jurisdictional issue with ease: First of all, as Petty Rule of Civil Procedure 1 states succinctly, “We do what we want.” Implicit in this rule is the power to do whatever we want. And besides, we’ve often held that our jurisdiction extends to anything having only the most tenuous connection with the Law School. See NGSL v. Burly Alumni, 43 U.Va. 12 (2003) (former bros are under our petty jurisdiction); Fuqua v. Chipotle, 254 U.Va. 110 (2009) (so is the Chipotle burrito artist who screwed up the SBA President’s burrito); Pittman v. Fillkie Warr, 907 U.Va. 670 (2019) (and the co-chair of a major New York law firm who once recruited a UVA Law student). Our jurisdiction is, in short, expansive and ever-growing. We have no problem asserting personal jurisdiction over a couple of recently graduated alums who lived, studied, and made fools out of themselves on the Corner here in Charlottesville.
So now that the lower court is reversed, you’d think we’d remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, right? WRONG. We’re here, the case is ripe, and I’m putting off weeks of Caleb Nelson’s reading at the moment, so we might as well knock this baby out.
Let’s talk about these lies. Plaintiffs list four in particular, covering a wide spectrum of Law School life:
(1) “Don’t worry—2L is way less busy than 1L, and 3Ls don’t do any work at all!”;
(2) “No one notices if you botch a cold call”;
(3) “Journals totally aren’t a pointless sham—you can learn a lot if you put in the effort!”; and
(4) “You can definitely land in New York or D.C.”
Unlike complicated common-law fraud that the Court doesn’t remember learning, Petty Law fraud is straightforward: If you lie, someone reasonably believes it, and suffers because she believes it, that’s fraud. The reasonable belief part is key. See, e.g., Smith v. Hulvey, 242 U.Va. 990 (2010) (“There can be no recovery where only a complete moron would believe he ‘can graduate debt-free if [he] put [his] mind to it.’”).
There can be no doubt that at least some credulous 1Ls bought the above-listed statements—the poor dears. Plaintiffs allege they not only believed the trusted mentor-figures who brought beer to their pregames, but relied on the PAs’ statements to their detriment—a necessary element of Petty Law fraud. See Class of 2017 v. Glendon, 847 U.Va. 344 (2017) (“You said there’d be Duck Donuts, Glendon, we skipped lunch!”) Now, they claim, they’ve been injured in various ways: a firm job in Colby, Kansas; a miserable position on a journal managing board; the savage laughter of unsympathetic sectionmates; and a permanent eye-twitch from twice-weekly all-nighters during 2L. These injuries are cognizable and sufficient to constitute damages: The Court collectively shudders imagining living in the hellscape of western Kansas.
In their defense, defendants at least spare the Court the farcical claim that the contested statements are true. They instead argue that the lies were a sort of necessary, coddling encouragement, like telling a child he can be an astronaut if he wants to be. Most children, of course, cannot be astronauts, due either to their complete lack of competence in physics or the gap in their resumes where their naval aviation career ought to be. Similarly, defendants claim, of course not every 1L can land in New York or D.C., but 1Ls’ believing they can is critical to maintaining their hopeful spirits. Likewise, if 1Ls knew people would remember in stunning detail every excruciating moment of their hideous attempts to explain easements or substantive due process, they wouldn’t even have the courage to show up to class.
When I started this opinion, I thought I was going to agree with plaintiffs, but honestly I’ve kind of convinced myself here. How would anyone make it through 1L if they knew the truth that 2L was just as excruciating? Why would anyone bother learning the Rule Against Perpetuities if they knew their efforts would be in vain—that they were bound for Nowheresville or worse: Cleveland. In light of this change of heart, we’ve decided to reverse Judge Davies (for old time’s sake) and remand for trial on the main factual issue in this case—what was the biggest waste of 3Ls’ time in law school: journal tryouts or sucking up at firm receptions?
The Court of Petty Claims is REVERSED and the case is REMANDED for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Justice Malkowski, concurring.
PAs, you say? I ran into a fellow who purported to be my PA at Libel rehearsals my 1L spring. I’d never seen him before. He felt bad for failing me and said I didn’t have to refill his beer. I proceeded to refill his beer. This concludes the history of my PAs and me.
 Except Professor Bonnie, probably.