Sain v. Cedar Rapids Comm. School Dist.

Citation626 N.W.2d 115
Decision Date25 April 2001
Docket NumberNo. 98-2273.,98-2273.
PartiesBruce E. SAIN II, Appellant, v. CEDAR RAPIDS COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT a/k/a Cedar Rapids Community Schools, Appellee.
CourtIowa Supreme Court

Anne E. Updegraff of the Tom Riley Law Firm, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

Matthew G. Novak and Thad J. Collins of Pickens, Barnes & Abernathy, Cedar Rapids, for appellee.

Considered en banc.

CADY, Justice.

This appeal requires us to decide whether an action for negligence should be recognized based upon inaccurate information concerning the course requirements to compete in intercollegiate sports at a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I university as a freshman allegedly given to a high school student by a guidance counselor. The district court found no cause of action existed as a matter of law and granted summary judgment. On review of the facts in the light most favorable to the student, we conclude summary judgment was improperly granted. We reverse the decision of the district court and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background Facts and Proceedings.

Bruce Sain attended Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids during his junior and senior years. Jefferson is included within the Cedar Rapids Community School District. Sain was a member of the varsity basketball team at Jefferson and maintained aspirations of receiving a scholarship to play basketball for a major college. He received many basketball accolades and awards during high school, including selection to the all-state basketball team.

Sain's guidance counselor at Jefferson was Larry Bowen. Bowen was generally familiar with the high school credits and course requirements imposed by the NCAA for incoming student-athletes to be eligible to compete in sports as a freshman at those Division I institutions which maintain membership in the NCAA. One such rule requires a student to complete three years of English courses approved by the NCAA, as well as core courses in mathematics, science, and the social sciences. The NCAA maintains a list of high school courses for each school which satisfy the core course requirements for each discipline. This list is known as Form 48—H. A high school submits the courses it offers to students to the NCAA for approval. A separate organization known as the NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse is responsible for evaluating and approving the courses submitted. The Clearinghouse identifies for each high school those courses which qualify as core courses and updates the list annually to reflect any changes or additions. This list is sent to each high school by the Clearinghouse.

Sain had satisfied some of the required courses in the various disciplines prior to beginning his senior year, but needed to take three approved English courses during the three trimesters of his senior year to meet the NCAA core course requirements for English.

Sain began his senior year at Jefferson in the fall of 1995. During the first trimester he enrolled in and satisfactorily completed an English course entitled "World Literature." This course was included in the NCAA list of approved core English courses. He registered to take a course entitled "English Literature" during the second trimester. This class was also approved by the NCAA as a core English course. Sain, however, was dissatisfied with the class and met with Bowen to determine if he could drop it and add another English course. Bowen suggested Sain take a different English course entitled "Technical Communications." It was a course in modern communications offered by the school district for the first time during the 1995-96 school year. Bowen believed the course would be compatible with Sain's interest in computers. Additionally, Bowen told Sain that the course would be approved by the NCAA as a core English course.1 Sain subsequently dropped "English Literature" from his schedule and enrolled in the "Technical Communications" course. He satisfactorily completed the course, as well as another English course during the final trimester.

The school failed to include the "Technical Communications" course on the list of classes submitted to the NCAA for approval. Although the high school typically submitted a list of its courses each year to the NCAA, it left the "Technical Communications" course off the list it submitted in 1995. Consequently, the course was not approved by the Clearinghouse and was not included on Form 48-H. However, the course had been approved by two of the three state universities in Iowa as a core English course. It was also approved by the National Council of Teachers of English.

During the final trimester of high school, Sain was offered and accepted a full five-year basketball scholarship at Northern Illinois University beginning in the fall semester of 1996. Pursuant to the letter of intent and NCAA rules, Sain agreed to enroll at Northern Illinois University and participate in intercollegiate sports as a member of the university men's basketball team in exchange for the full ride athletic scholarship. The Northern Illinois University basketball program participates in Division I of the NCAA.

Sain graduated from Jefferson High School in the spring of 1996. Shortly after graduation, Sain received a letter from the NCAA Clearinghouse. The Clearinghouse informed Sain that the "Technical Communications" course he took during the second trimester did not satisfy the core English requirements. This meant only two of the three English courses taken by Sain during his senior year had been accepted by the NCAA Clearinghouse, and Sain fell one-third credit short of the core English requirements to participate in Division I basketball as a freshman. Sain and Northern Illinois University requested a waiver from the NCAA. The request was denied and Sain lost his scholarship. As a result, Sain was unable to attend Northern Illinois University during the 1996-97 school year and compete in basketball for the school.2

Sain brought this action against the school district and the NCAA. The claim against the NCAA was later voluntarily dismissed.

The action against the school district was based on separate claims of negligence and negligent misrepresentation under the Restatement (Second) of Torts section 552(1) (1977). Sain claimed Bowen breached a duty to provide competent academic advice concerning the eligibility to participate in Division I sports as a freshman. He also claimed the school district was negligent in failing to submit the "Technical Communications" course to the NCAA for pre-approval.

The school district moved for summary judgment. The district court granted the motion. It found the negligence theory was a claim for educational malpractice, and determined the claim was required to be dismissed because a school counselor has no duty to a student as a matter of law to use reasonable care in providing course information. It also found the claim for negligent misrepresentation did not apply to an educational setting, but was limited to commercial or business transactions.

Sain appeals. He claims the nature of the relationship between a student and guidance counselor imposes a duty on the counselor to use reasonable care when giving specific information about the course requirements for admission to college or participation in college athletics and submitting courses to the NCAA for approval. He also claims the recognized tort of negligent misrepresentation is broad enough to hold a guidance counselor liable for providing specific information to a student pertaining to the required courses and credits necessary to pursue post-high school goals.

II. Scope of Review.

We review rulings on motions for summary judgment for corrections of errors at law. Teague v. Mosley, 552 N.W.2d 646, 648 (Iowa 1996). We "review the record before the district court to determine whether an issue of material fact exists, and ... whether the district court properly applied the law." Howell v. Merritt Co., 585 N.W.2d 278, 280 (Iowa 1998).

III. Educational Malpractice.

We begin by considering the nature of Sain's claim. We have refused to recognize a cause of action in Iowa for educational malpractice. Moore v. Vanderloo, 386 N.W.2d 108, 113-15 (Iowa 1986). Consequently, the district court properly dismissed the action under Moore if Sain's theory of recovery in this case falls within the parameters of educational negligence.

In Moore, we recognized three categories of educational malpractice. Id. at 113. The first category involves basic academic instruction or misrepresentation of the level of academic performance. Id. The second category deals with placing or failing to place a student in a specific educational setting. Id. The third category concerns supervision of student performance. Id. We identified five policy reasons for our refusal to make these categories actionable. These reasons include the absence of an adequate standard of care, uncertainty in determining damages, the burden placed on schools by the potential flood of litigation that would probably result, the deference given to the educational system to carry out its internal operations, and the general reluctance of courts to interfere in an area regulated by legislative standards. Id. at 114-15.

The school district argues Sain's action falls within the placement and supervision categories of educational malpractice. It asserts the action involves the supervision of a student by a guidance counselor and the placement of a student in a particular class.

Although there is no established definition of educational malpractice, our three recognized categories reveal the action centers on complaints about the reasonableness of the conduct engaged in by educational institutions in providing their basic functions of teaching, supervising, placing, and testing students in relationship to the level of academic performance and competency of the student. See Dan B. Dobbs, The Law of Torts §...

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