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A friend of mine studies at an American university in the UAE. Recently, he was literally escorted out of the campus building on the premise that it was winter break.

It is a common notion that the university remains closed during the winter break, but he is a full-time student and was on the campus for more than 24 hours. The university is heavily guarded and is always monitored by a Public Safety department which is actually run by a multinational security corporation (originally based in the US). The presence of my friend was already known and he has been a student for more than 3 years. He was working on a project, and is a kind of person who gets lost very easily in work. First night, he crashed in during the night because he lives in a far away city (in his case, Dubai) and continued working on his project the next day as well. The university is a very student focused Liberal Arts university; and he was in no way ready for what was to happen.

While he was working in one of the labs which is usually 24x7 for student use, two security guards approached him and asked him to leave the campus immediately. The demeanor of the guards was very rough and they kicked out this student and asked him actually to leave the campus (entirely) at around midnight. Now, my friend is literally left devastated by this act which they carried out on him at mid-night. He hates his university and is scared of the Public Safety officers (who are supposed to protect him). He immeditely wrote to them asking what the actual protocol was for some student who would come to campus during a break, but hasn't received a response since (almost ten days now).

Can he sue the company managing the Public Safety department (for the psychological damage he received)? He has witnesses, including me. On what grounds can he file a case?

EDIT: The university is a residential education based university that means student live there 24x7 except during the break, and during that time only the housing is shut but all the other major facilities are accessible. So all the places my friend accessed was using his university issued RFID based ID card. So far, the Public Safety department has not given any official reply to the question what the actual protocol is. It seems that there was no such protocol to deal with such a case in the first place but the security officers on duty that night just did it out of their whim.

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Nothing in the description strikes me as illegal or unlawful, so I am unsure of the grounds your friend would have for legal action.

The questions a lawyer would ask (in addition to that) would be likely to include :

  • How does your friend quantify the damage? The law is great for pursuing financial compensation, but does not handle abstract concepts. Has your friend used psychological counselling services, and what was the cost? What additional financial costs has your friend borne?

  • If your friend has written to the University and has expected a response, what is the evidence of diminished trust? (The letter suggests otherwise.)

  • Would a reasonable person (the proverbial "man in the street") be psychologically damaged by the events experienced by your friend?

  • Is there evidence of a pre-existing condition?

You've also mentioned yourself as a witness. Did you witness the eviction, or would you be attesting to your friend's state of mind? If the latter, what are your psychological qualifications?

In the main Western jurisdictions, the answer to the question "can my friend sue?" is usually "yes", but whether they stood a chance of winning the suit would probably be a better question to ask.

Your friend would only be likely to win a case against the University or the Security company if they could demonstrate unlawful or counter-contractual activity by staff, and were able to demonstrate financial damages that had been caused by that activity.

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So to summarise: Your friend was on another person's property. Authorised officers of the property owner asked him to leave and ensured that he did leave.

Please explain in that fact pattern where there is an unlawful act or omission? Apart from your friend's possible trespass if they were there without permission.

I am sorry that your friend is "devastated" and "hates university" and "is scared" but I cannot see how your freinds emotional and psycological fragility is the university's problem. Hurt feelings are not legal damages. Indeed, everyone is legally entitled to hurt other people's feelings - its called "free speach".

  • It is not clear from the question that the student was in fact trespassing. As a current student, he may have had, or believes in good faith that he had, permission to be where he was. But even if he did, if the university changed its policies, or even if the university police violated its policy, that would not obviously give the student a right to sue. – David Siegel Jan 12 at 0:29
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    @DavidSiegel If he did have permission it was withdrawn when he was asked to leave. – Dale M Jan 12 at 1:35
  • True, but he isn't trespassing if he leaves when he is asked to. Assuming the security people had proper authority to order him to leave, which the probably but not surely did. – David Siegel Jan 12 at 4:32
  • @DavidSiegel how many campuses do you know that allow non-resident students to access facilities 24/7? Or indeed sleep overnight on the premises? – Moo Jan 12 at 6:13
  • @DaleM I think it's the opposite of tresspassing. The student was kicked out of the university that was his 'home'. – DaveIdito Jan 12 at 10:31

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