Lee et al. v. The Law School (2019)
Chief Justice Shmazzle delivered the opinion of the Court.
Today, the Court must address a problem we’d prefer to pretend doesn’t exist like we do the other 364 days of the year: tuition. A class of plaintiffs comprising the entire student body of the law school alleges that, having procrastinated until the last possible day to pay tuition, it noticed a shocking and heretofore unknown increase in tuition. Aggrieved and contemplating a thinner budget of $7 beer and dumplings that taste good only when you’re drunk, the class filed suit alleging that the tuition increase constitutes a taking by the administration and, alternatively, that it violated the North Grounds Procedure Act because of the egregious lack of notice provided to students.
UVA Law students dispersed across the country this summer to pursue summer work in the form of government internships, law-firm jobs, public-interest endeavors, research, and more. All worked their butts off, trying to impress potential future employers and recommenders, and planned for the upcoming school year to come. As the Summer Solstice passed and the days began to grow shorter, paychecks tapered off, and emails from the school filled our inboxes, students (their parents, Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae) were faced with the most dreaded part of any semester––paying tuition. And as students logged on to pay the exorbitant fee, this Court started receiving complaints from students about the increase in tuition that no one thought we’d be interested in knowing about in advance (and, if such notice was provided, no one on this Court caught it in our inboxes). Complaints included claims of detrimental reliance on prior terms of cost of attendance, use of force/duress in springing these costs on students so late as to make it impossible to transfer or otherwise order their budgets to prepare for this additional cost, and lots of F-bombs. Eventually, the class settled on the claims here, seeking restitution in the form of additional Thursday kegs for the money that was taken unexpectedly or an explanation regarding why tuition increased and what the money will be going toward.
The lower court, in granting respondent’s motion for summary judgment on the grounds that its notice-less tuition increase was a valid exercise of its power, gave several justifications. First, the lower court held that the amount of the increase was not a taking because it was, in the grand scheme of things, “not that much money.” The lower court even claimed this was petty cash compared to what these students will ultimately make in their legal careers.. But we’re going to give a big old “WRONG” to that. This might seem like petty cash to whoever implemented this change, who paid like three grand a year to go to law school in 1953, but this is no petty sum for students. This money could buy students 650 drinks at Bilt (even more if it’s bar review), 300 large Christian pizzas with extra toppings, all their law school books during all three years of law school, and most importantly, a new puppy. Do respondents find a puppy small and insignificant? Do y’all hate animals? Because that’s what I’m getting from that ruling, and that’s garbage. This Petty Court will not allow rulings that support animal cruelty, and for that reason this Court finds the lower court’s argument to be without merit.
Second, the lower court found that there was adequate notice under the North Grounds Procedure Act for students to discover this increased tuition cost. Citing Pennoyer v. Neff and Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co.[JV1] , the lower court thought it was really smart and rational in finding that students had enough time to ask for increased loans and cancel post-2L law firm trips around the world. But the lower court forgets that this Court doesn’t follow such precedents––they’re far too confusing and the writers use too many big words. Instead, we follow our own case law. A long series of prior cases indicates that students should win when the administration doesn’t send at least four emails alerting them to a change in policy or required course of action. See, e.g., Students Registering for Classes v. Dugas, 876 U.Va. 110 (2016) (finding that one email about course selection isn’t enough and ordering damages to all rising 3Ls who had missed the course lottery; no one can seriously expect those burnouts to remember something after just one email); 1Ls v. Career Services, 667 U.Va. 1 (2012) (enjoining Career Services to send important dates out in several emails instead of expecting stressed-out, crazed 1Ls to actually read emails start-to-finish. The 1Ls are smarter than any law-firm-partner-turned-career-advisor up there, obvi, and don’t have time to worry too much about job advice from the sass-monster). The case before us here is worse than even those examples––at least the losers in those cases sent ONE email. Here, the Court can find no evidence that respondents sent any. Logging into SIS three weeks before classes start to pay tuition and discovering this change is not enough time to re-budget and re-plan for costs to come. That’s not notice and no court should pretend otherwise.
Lastly, the lower court judge found that, even if respondents ought to have to explained their actions or given notice, failing to do so was harmless because the people making these decisions are “very busy” and the extra money will “go toward things that benefit the students.” But judge, I have to ask[JV2] ––have you seen the truncated remains of Jeffries Garden? And the lack of potato chips in the snack room?! This Court hasn’t seen any new benefits to students, and we all know that if you can’t see something then it must not be there. Because respondent has not supplied any justification (at least none that the court can find) for such increased costs or what the funds will go toward, we cannot agree that the error in failing to provide notice was harmless.
There’s also a chance the class of plaintiffs has sued the wrong defendants. The Court has heard rumor that there’s some sort of “Board of Guests” that sits somewhere called “the Rotundity” or something like that that makes decisions about tuition. Until we get confirming evidence of these (frankly ridiculous sounding) entities, we’re just going to blame the Law School in our tantrum.
Finding none of the lower court arguments for respondent persuasive, this Court turns to petitioners’ argument that this change was not “fair,” “cool,” or “dope” at all. Further, this court considers petitioners’ suggestion that some explanation of what the increased funds are being used for is in order. And this court considers the petitioners’ request for an apology for forcing a cost on students so late and without any actual notice. Since this Court hasn’t heard a word from respondent, it has to assume the money was taken to inflict undue hardship on petitioners without Due Process and that it all went toward funding the world’s black market for Coach purses. Because the money is likely unrecoverable, this Court refrains from issuing damages to petitioners. Instead, we remand to the lower court with orders to grant petitioners’ motion for summary judgment, which requested that respondents be shamed for their actions and comply with any and all Law Weekly investigations regarding these funds.
It is so ordered.
Associate Senior Justice Elicegui, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I agree with the conclusion reached by my colleague, Chief Justice Schmazzle. However, this case can be resolved entirely on procedural grounds, thus avoiding the need to reach the merits and providing an opportunity to dunk on Judge Shipman, which I relish.
Judge Shipman, ignoring Petty Rule of Civil Procedure 16, reached the merits of the case to find for respondents, even though respondents never even deigned to respond to the complaints! The respondents had notice of the case and were properly served with the complaints, I think. And if not, the respondents had notice that they were implementing a tuition increase and should have expected students to feel aggrieved, then take their grievances to the most illustrious body in all the land for resolving such problems.
Given the lack of response, the Law School loses. Sorry, I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them. Jk jk I also make the rules. See Petty Court of Civil Procedure R. 1: we do what we want.
So give us our dollar bills back. It would be so ordered if I were in the majority. Le sigh.
 Except you gunners with scholarships.
 As is sacred law school custom.
 Read: everyone except rising 3Ls at law firm jobs. Mostly they sat around scrolling Twitter and indulging in daily three hour lunches while their waist lines expanded from the combination.
 For those students fortunate enough to get them.
 Let’s hope they don’t claim the increase went to luxurious new furniture in the renovated WB rooms.
 @New 1Ls, if you want to see a real-life fire-breathing dragon, RSVP to all and then don’t attend any of the spring firm receptions. K-Don loves that.
The number of emails signed “best-jason” during this period, meanwhile, boggles the mind.
 We acknowledge it has been like four days since these increases went into effect but we’re mad, so . . .
 Admit it, ladies. You all know you had one circa 7th grade.
 At least, the most illustrious body in all the land until Chrissy Teigen gets “Chrissy’s Court” up and running.
[JV1]Full case name; and maybe go with one of the APA notice cases instead.
[JV2]It’s your preference, of course, but I don’t like the conversation-with-the-lower-court thing. You’re the higher court, you don’t have to ask him anything.