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I'm going to be changing some identifying details here.

Alice attends Omega University. OU has a policy which restricts guests’ access to dorms to only certain hours on certain days. The day in question is from 3 pm until midnight.

Alice arrives with her guest Arthur around 7 pm, when they are told that Arthur must leave because of an event for which OU has suspended the hours. The email informing Alice of this was sent at 5 pm.

Arthur now threatens to sue OU in a small claims court for travel costs, arguing that if OU had notified their students in a timely manner, he would not have expended resources traveling to the university.

Ultimately, Arthur decided not to sue.

If the lawsuit had gone forward, how likely would it have been that Arthur won?

Jurisdiction is USA. I am not willing to provide the state because the above events are true with identifying information changed. If a state is required for an answer, pick your favorite.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Dale M Sep 13 at 0:59
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Arthur has no contractual relationship with OU, and therefore no right to be in any dorm, or anywhere w.r.t. the university. The university has no duty to Arthur. Alice has some relationship to the university, but that doesn't matter here. This is similar to the situation where you drive to a store to get a chunk of cheese (assume that the store has a website) and find that the store is closed for some reason, or find that they are out of cheese. You can't sue the store for the expense of driving to the store and finding your goal thwarted. They have no legal obligation to third parties to inform them in a timely fashion of closures or product-outages.

Given Alice's contractual relationship to OU, it is imaginable that the university makes a promise regarding advance notification about unscheduled changes in hours, for example, they might promise that students will receive an email pertaining to closures within 1 hour of the closure decision being made. There is zero chance that there is such a clause, which is stated in terms of something uncontrollable (receipt, not transmission, of email), and is an unrealistic time frame given the nature of OU bureaucracy (they would not willingly set themselves up like that). Furthermore, Alice suffered no financial loss. Alice also won't have a financial loss because Arthur sued Alice – Alice has in no way wronged Arthur.

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    Alice may well have suffered some financial loss, .e.g if she had to ask Arthur to visit her again, paying his expenses. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Sep 12 at 7:28
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    A more likely factor in Arthur's losses, in my view, is that Alice's invitation to Arthur conveyed some implied guarantee that Arthur's visit would be worth the journey. If Arthur might have made a different decision if aware of the risk posed by OU's policy (assuming OU did act within the terms of their contract with Alice) then perhaps Alice did indeed wrong Arthur. – Will Sep 12 at 10:02
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    tort of negligent interference? Suppose Alice's invite was (due to details not shared) an implicit contract. Then the university negligently interfered with Alice and Arthur's implicit contract by changing the visiting hours with insufficient notice. – Yakk Sep 12 at 15:53
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    @Yakk: I doubt the dorm is zoned for running a business, and even if it is, I would imagine the university would prohibit such usage of its space. So I find it hard to conceive of a case where Alice would be entitled to significant damages over such an implied contract. – Kevin Sep 12 at 17:32
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    @Yakk: Yes, I know the difference between a "business" and a "contract." But if you're not running a business, then your damages can't realistically be large enough to be worth the expense of going to court (especially since, regardless of whether you are actually running a business, the university will argue that you were, and thereby make the case a lot more complicated and expensive to argue). – Kevin Sep 12 at 20:46
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Aside from all else, this will fail for lack of provable damages.

It's not even like Arthur had to rent a hotel room in lieu of expecting to sleep the night in the dorm room. That is not allowed, after all.

By the rules Arthur and Alice were aware of, Arthur already had to make alternate arrangements for where to stay after midnight.

And Arthur did have access to the dorm from 5pm-7pm, so the only time he could possibly claim damages for would be 7pm to midnight. Now, the walls close in on Arthur.

If Arthur had expected to store his traveling luggage there, the rule has not prevented it since Alice could simply fetch it for him at Midnight, since she is still allowed in. Arthur would need to show that is impossible.

Arthur already had a duty to obtain accommodations for the time period after midnight, when it's ordinarily expected that a person will need sleeping accommodations. It is essentially standard in the accomodation business, that a place which allow occupancy from midnight-8AM also allows occupancy 7pm-midnight. So Arthur could move his stuff there, or even move his social encounter there. To claim damages, Arthur would need to show that was impossible; and that the impossibility was reasonable (i.e. There was some reason he couldn't select a different hotel with sane/normal rules).

Even if Arthur planned to sleep rough or stay up all night, he would have to show how that was nowhere else to be from 7pm-midnight or that there was nowhere to spend those hours, such as department libraries (generally open to the public, often late hours), student union, off-campus pizza place, bar, city park, what have you).

Lacking these provable damages, the case will quickly be dismissed.

Further, if defense digs up other cases of poor merit, Arthur could be ruled a "vexatious litigant" and barred from further suits (except by approaching a judge for preapproval for a case; thus if someone crashes a plane into his house, he still has access to the legal system).

  • I think this answer entirely sidesteps the question of the damages claimed, namely the expended resources traveling to the university. Thus it would seem Arthur would only need to show that it was impossible to do whatever he had planned to do with Alice between 7p.m. and mightnight outside of the dorm room itself. – Andy Sep 12 at 21:41
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    @Andy because OP did not claim the purpose for visit was only possible from inside the dorm room, and that seems too highly improbable to simply infer. What could involve? Sniper shot? Wiretap of cable? Magical ley lines? Stalking fellow student? Better view of fireworks--- a concert??? Ah ha, that last one might make some sense, and would explain the curfew. In that case, I'd say Alice was an idiot for not realizing there is no free lunch, and the dorm does this every concert... Come to think of it, it is September... – Harper Sep 12 at 22:26
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The university is renting space to Alice, which makes it a residential lease. In most US states there are specific provisions which are required by law, or treated as present, in any residential lease, and one of these is that a tenant shall have "quiet enjoyment" of the premises, without undue interference from the landlord. "Quiet enjoyment" is usually construed to include the right to invite guests. Whether such university regulations would stand up if challenged legally would depend on details of local law and the contract between Alice and the University.

However, although Alice might have a cause of action against OU it seems unlikely that Robert would, as he has no contract with OU. Had he refused to leave and the OU authorities forced him, or summoned police, he might have a case for false arrest or some other tort, depending on the exact events. In that case, the legality of the university regulations, including short-notice changes, would be in issue, as if they were not valid, OU would have no authority to insist that Robert leave. But the question does not follow that course of events.

At one time many US colleges and universities did exercise pervasive control over the lives and activities of students under the doctrine of in loco parentis. The history and end of this doctrine, which was largely overthrown in the 1960s, is described in "The Curious Life of In Loco Parentis at American Universities" by Philip Lee. A key early case is Dixon v. Alabama 294 F.2d 150 (5th Cir. 1961), (see the actual opinion of the Fifth Circut). That case was a matter of due process in connection with civil rights demonstrations, and the court held that at least a basic notice and hearing was required of a state university. Another such case was Dickey v. Alabama State Board of Education 273 F. Supp. 613 (M.D. Ala. 1967) where the court said:

This Court recognizes that the establishment of an educational program requires certain rules and regulations necessary for maintaining an orderly program and operating the institution in a manner conducive to learning. However, the school and school officials have always been bound by the requirement that the rules and regulations must be reasonable.

The court held that a rule which violated the free speech rights of a student was not reasonable.

In Bradshaw v. Rawlings, (1979) the court wrote:

College administrators no longer control the broad arena of general morals. At one time, exercising their rights and duties in loco parentis, colleges were able to impose strict regulations. But today, students vigorously claim the right to define and regulate their own lives. Especially they have demanded and received satisfaction of their interest in self-assertion in both physical and mental activities, and have vindicated what may be called the interest in freedom of the individual will.

Thus the special rights of a college or university to control students as parents control minor children vanished from US law between say 1950 and 1980, although I have some problems in finding the cases where these rules were applied to private schools. In connection with housing issues, the university is in no very different position than any landlord would be. The university may impose regulations as a matter of contract with its students, but these are limited by applicable laws, which will vary from state to state. In any case it may not unreasonably vary such rules without notice.

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    Students living in college dorms are often not covered by standard residential leases. Their contracts may be much more restrictive and include agreements to abide by college rules. Also, students living in a dorm are often specifically exempted from usual tenant protections. See for instance Houle v. Adams State in Colorado. So I think the university may be in a very different position from a typical landlord, and I would not assume that the student has a "right of quiet enjoyment". – Nate Eldredge Sep 13 at 1:15
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    In particular, I very strongly suspect that the university may revoke permission for the visitor to be on campus, notwithstanding that the student has given him permission, and have him charged with trespassing if he refuses. I also suspect that a student who attempts to circumvent curfew rules can be disciplined through the university's process and potentially kicked out of campus housing. – Nate Eldredge Sep 13 at 1:17
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    @NateEldredge The Houle v. Adams State case seems to be from 1976. A late case of In Loco Parentis? It seems odd from a 2019 perspective that a university would have the right to overrule laws like that – JollyJoker Sep 13 at 9:10
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    This isn't the place to get into whether we think laws are right or wrong, but I guess I would say it just reflects a longstanding societal understanding that dorms are a very different situation from typical rental housing, and ought not to be treated the same. There are other states where such exceptions are explicit in statute. E.g. Connecticut General Statutes 47a-2 (a) (1), which exempts "Residence at an institution, public or private, if incidental to detention or the provision of medical, geriatric, educational, counseling or religious service, or any similar service;" – Nate Eldredge Sep 13 at 12:32

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