890 F.2d 484 (1st Cir. 1989), 89-1564, Russell v. Salve Regina College

Docket Nº:89-1564, 89-1597.
Citation:890 F.2d 484
Party Name:Sharon L. RUSSELL, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. SALVE REGINA COLLEGE, et als., Defendants, Appellants. Sharon L. RUSSELL, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. SALVE REGINA COLLEGE, et als., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:November 20, 1989
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Page 484

890 F.2d 484 (1st Cir. 1989)

Sharon L. RUSSELL, Plaintiff, Appellee,


SALVE REGINA COLLEGE, et als., Defendants, Appellants.

Sharon L. RUSSELL, Plaintiff, Appellant,


SALVE REGINA COLLEGE, et als., Defendants, Appellees.

Nos. 89-1564, 89-1597.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

November 20, 1989

Heard Oct. 3, 1989.

Page 485

Steven E. Snow, with whom Partridge, Snow & Hahn, Providence, R.I., was on brief for Salve Regina College, et als.

Edward T. Hogan, with whom Hogan & Hogan, East Providence, R.I., was on brief for Sharon L. Russell.

Before BOWNES and TORRUELLA, Circuit Judges, and TIMBERS, [*] Senior Circuit Judge.

TIMBERS, Circuit Judge:

This consolidated appeal arises from the stormy relationship between Sharon L. Russell ("Russell") and Salve Regina College of Newport, Rhode Island ("Salve Regina" or "the College"), which Russell attended from 1982 to 1985. The United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, Ronald R. Lagueux, District Judge, entered a directed verdict for Salve Regina on Russell's claims of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress at the close of plaintiff's case-in-chief, but allowed Russell's breach of contract claim to go to the jury. 1 The jury found that Salve Regina had breached its contract with Russell by expelling her. The court entered judgment on the verdict, denying Salve Regina's motions for judgment n.o.v. and for a new trial. The court also denied Salve Regina's motion for remittitur of the damages of $30,513.40 plus interest, a total of $43,903.45, that the jury awarded Russell.

On appeal Russell contends that, because a reasonable jury could have found invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Rhode Island law, the district court erred in entering a directed verdict on those claims. Salve Regina contends that the judgment that it breached its contract with Russell should be reversed because: (1) the court erred as a matter of law in its analysis of the contract between a student and the college she attended; and (2) even accepting the court's formulation, there was insufficient evidence to support the jury verdict. It also argues that the calculation of damages was incorrect as a matter of law.

For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the district court in all respects.

Page 486


We summarize only those facts believed necessary to an understanding of the issues raised on appeal.

By all accounts, Sharon Russell was an extremely overweight young woman. In her application for admission to Salve Regina, Russell stated her weight as 280 pounds. The College apparently did not consider her condition a problem at that time, as it accepted her under an early admissions plan. From the start, Russell made it clear that her goal was admission to the College's Nursing Department.

Russell completed her freshman year without significant incident and was accepted in the College's Nursing Department starting in her sophomore year, 1983-84. Her trauma started then. 2 The year began on a sour note when a school administrator told Russell in public that they would have trouble finding a nurse's uniform to fit her. Later, during a class on how to make beds occupied by patients, the instructor had Russell serve as the patient, reasoning aloud that if the students could make a bed occupied by Russell, who weighed over 300 pounds, they would have no problem with real patients. The same instructor used Russell in similar fashion for demonstrations on injections and the taking of blood pressure.

The start of Russell's junior year, 1984-85, coincides with the time school officials began to pressure her directly to lose weight. In the first semester, they tried to get Russell to sign a "contract" stating that she would attend Weight Watchers and to prove it by submitting an attendance record. Russell offered to try to attend weekly, but refused to sign a written promise. Apparently, she did go to Weight Watchers regularly, but did not lose significant weight. One of Russell's clinical instructors gave her a failing grade in the first semester for reasons which, the jury found, were related to her weight rather than her performance. 3

According to the rules of the Nursing Department, failure in a clinical course generally entailed expulsion from the program. But school officials offered Russell a deal, whereby she would sign a "contract" similar to the one she rejected earlier, with the additional provision that she needed to lose at least two pounds per week to remain in good standing. The "contract" provided that the penalty for failure would be immediate withdrawal from the program. Confronting the choice of signing the agreement or being expelled, Russell signed.

Russell apparently lived up to the terms of the "contract" during the second semester by attending Weight Watchers weekly and submitting proof of attendance, but she failed to lose two pounds per week steadily. She was nevertheless allowed to complete her junior year. During the following summer, however, Russell did not maintain satisfactory contact with College officials regarding her efforts, nor did she lose any additional weight. She was asked to withdraw from the nursing program voluntarily and she did so. She transferred to a program at another school. 4 Since that program had a two year residency requirement, Russell had to repeat her junior year, causing her nursing education to run five years rather than the usual four. Russell completed her education...

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