Rayess v. Educ. Comm'n for Foreign Med. Graduates

Decision Date06 December 2012
Docket NumberNo. 2011–1933.,2011–1933.
Citation983 N.E.2d 1267,134 Ohio St.3d 509
PartiesRAYESS, Appellee, v. EDUCATIONAL COMMISSION FOR FOREIGN MEDICAL GRADUATES, Appellant.
CourtOhio Supreme Court
OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

[Ohio St.3d 509]Syllabus of the Court

1. An informational pamphlet describing the testing required of a foreign-medical-school graduate in order to obtain a medical license in the United States is not a contract.

2. An application to take an examination is a request to do so and, if approved,

allows an applicant the opportunity to participate in the examination, subject to the direction of the testing authority; it is not an express written contract subject to the 15–year statute of limitations.

Mohamed Bassem Rayess, pro se.

Janik, L.L.P., Steven G. Janik, and Audrey K. Bentz, Cleveland, for appellant.

O'DONNELL, J.

{¶ 1} The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates appeals from a judgment of the Second District Court of Appeals that reversed the trial court judgment and held that an informational pamphlet describing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (“USMLE”) and application materials submitted by Mohamed Bassem Rayess to participate in that examination formed an express written contract governed by the 15–year statute of limitations established by former R.C. 2305.06. Am.Sub.H.B. No. 152, 145 Ohio Laws, Part II, 3313, 3569.

{¶ 2} The trial court had determined that the documents Rayess attached to the complaint—which included part of an informational pamphlet published by the commission describing the USMLE, written confirmation from the commission regarding the testing site, and a copy of his proof of payment—did not [Ohio St.3d 510]constitute an express written contract, and it further concluded that to the extent Rayess alleged that an unwritten contract existed, the six-year statute of limitations established by R.C. 2305.07 for contracts not in writing barred recovery.

{¶ 3} The court of appeals, on the other hand, found that the documents attached to the complaint demonstrated that the commission had “promised, in exchange for his payment of a four hundred dollar fee, which [the commission] accepted, to allow Rayess to take the exam administered by [it].” 2d Dist. No. 24125 (Sept. 20, 2011). The appellate court held that the documents represented a “promise in writing” by the commission, and it concluded that Rayess had timely asserted a breach-of-contract claim because the 15–year statute of limitations for written contracts applied.

{¶ 4} An informational pamphlet describing the testing required of a foreign-medical-graduate in order to obtain a medical license in the United States is not a contract. Similarly, an application to take an examination is a request to do so, and if approved, it allows the applicant an opportunity to participate in the examination, subject to the direction of the testing authority; it is not an express written contract subject to the 15–year statute of limitations.

{¶ 5} The documents attached to the complaint do not include any promise in writing, nor do they contain definite, mutually agreed-upon terms setting forth the rights and duties of the parties. These documents do not constitute a written contract, and the 15–year statute of limitations does not apply to this case. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the court of appeals and reinstate the judgment of the trial court.

Facts and Procedural History

{¶ 6} Rayess graduated from a Syrian medical school in 1986, and after completing a residency in orthopedic surgery in France, he came to the United States in 1991 to obtain a medical residency.

{¶ 7} Graduates of foreign medical schools are required to be certified by the commission before applying for medical residency in Ohio. The commission is a not-for-profit corporation that administers various examinations to foreign-medical-school graduates to assess whether an applicantis prepared to enter an accredited medical residency or fellowship program in the United States.

{¶ 8} The USMLE is one of the examinations administered by the commission, and a passing score on Parts I and II of the exam is required for certification. In an informational pamphlet, the commission described Part I as a two-day, multiple-choice examination “consist[ing] of four, three-hour test books.”

{¶ 9} The commission approved Rayess's application to take Part I of the USMLE on September 21 and 22, 1993. Rayess took and failed that examination.

[Ohio St.3d 511]{¶ 10} On September 19, 2008—almost 15 years later—Rayess sued the commission for breach of an express written contract, alleging that it had failed to administer Part I of the USMLE in accordance with the terms and conditions contained in the pamphlet by denying him the entire amount of time allowed for completing part of the examination.1 Rayess voluntarily dismissed that complaint, but refiled it on October 16, 2009, further alleging that the breach of contract caused him to fail the examination and suffer damages.

{¶ 11} Rayess attached several exhibits to the 2009 complaint he filed in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas: (1) a redacted copy of his application to take the USMLE and an acknowledgement of its receipt by the commission, (2) a copy of a letter he sent to the commission enclosing payment for the examination and a copy of a canceled check, (3) a copy of a letter he sent to the commission requesting a transfer to a different testing site and a copy of a cancelled check evidencing payment of the transfer fee, (4) a copy of part of an informational pamphlet published by the commission describing the testing procedures of the USMLE and a confirmation from the commission regarding his testing site, and (5) a statement of his account with the commission, reflecting his payments.

{¶ 12} The commission denied the allegations in the complaint and asserted the statute of limitations as a defense. It subsequently moved for judgment on the pleadings.

{¶ 13} The trial court granted the motion, finding that the documents attached to the complaint did not constitute an express written contract and that “in the event that an oral contract existed,” the six-year statute of limitations for oral contracts barred recovery. Rayess appealed, and the Second District Court of Appeals reversed the judgment and remanded the cause to the trial court.

{¶ 14} The commission appealed to this court and presents one proposition of law:

A written contract cannot exist when it is based on a general informational brochure coupled with supplemental evidence to establish the obligations of the parties.

[Ohio St.3d 512]{¶ 15} The commission contends that the informational pamphlet does not establish any enforceable duties and that Rayesstherefore has failed to demonstrate the existence of an express written contract. It notes that Rayess attached no single document setting forth all the essential elements of a contract, and it maintains that the documents on which Rayess relies cannot be construed as a binding and enforceable written contract, because nothing defines the obligations of the parties and because the exhibits reference other documents not attached to the complaint.

{¶ 16} Rayess maintains that the informational pamphlet the commission provided and the application documents he submitted, construed together, prove the existence of an express written contract and therefore the 15–year statute of limitations governs his claim. He emphasizes that the informational pamphlet represented that [t]he examination consists of four, three-hour test books” and claims that when the commission failed to give him three hours to complete part of the examination, it breached the express terms of the contract. Rayess further argues that if this court determines that an oral contract existed, issues related to his immigration status and his immigration petition tolled the statute of limitations in this case. Rayess waived any argument regarding an oral contract by failing to appeal the judgment of the court of appeals in favor of the commission on that issue.

{¶ 17} We are called on to examine whether an informational pamphlet and an application to take an examination can form an express written contract.

Law and Analysis

{¶ 18} Civ.R. 12(C) provides, “After the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” We construed Civ.R. 12(C) in State ex rel. Midwest Pride IV, Inc. v. Pontious, 75 Ohio St.3d 565, 569–570, 664 N.E.2d 931 (1996), explaining:

[D]ismissal is appropriate where a court (1) construes the material allegations in the complaint, with all reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom, in favor of the nonmoving party as true, and (2) finds beyond doubt, that the plaintiff could prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Thus, Civ.R. 12(C) requires a determination that no material factual issues exist and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

(Citation omitted.) Id. at 570, 664 N.E.2d 931. Because the review of a decision to dismiss a complaint pursuant to Civ.R. 12(C) presents only questions of law, id., our review [Ohio St.3d 513]is de novo. See Perrysburg Twp. v. Rossford, 103 Ohio St.3d 79, 2004-Ohio-4362, 814 N.E.2d 44, ¶ 5.

{¶ 19} In Kostelnik v. Helper, 96 Ohio St.3d 1, 2002-Ohio-2985, 770 N.E.2d 58, we described the...

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