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Superior Court Grants Summary Judgment in Emotional Distress Case

August 27, 2013

On May 28, 2013, in Department 6 of the Riverside Superior Court, Judge Robert Taylor granted the defendants' Joint Motion for Summary Judgment in an intentional infliction of emotional distress case handled by Robert H. Panman and Lisa D. Angelo.

In June 2011, George Ross, Jr. enrolled in a summer law school admissions examination preparatory course offered by The Princeton Review. In a verified complaint, the plaintiff (who was in pro per) alleged that the prep program, its director and one of its instructors collectively and intentionally caused him to suffer from emotional distress when they questioned him about matters pertaining to attendance and participation, including disruptions created by using his phone during class and getting out of his seat to use the restroom. The plaintiff was ultimately dismissed from the course several weeks before its completion. The plaintiff sought one million dollars and punitive damages for loss of future earnings since he claimed this affected his performance on the October 2011 LSAT examination, and his ability to gain acceptance to law school and become a lawyer. Murchison & Cumming defended The Princeton Review, a director of the program and a course instructor in this action.

In October 2012, the defendants filed a Joint Motion for Summary Judgment as to the plaintiff's complaint. At the hearing on the defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the court found that undisputed material facts showed: (1) the plaintiff attended the defendants' LSAT course in June 2011 and was dismissed less than two months later in August 2011; (2) the defendant had a policy which included the right to dismiss disruptive students; (3) the plaintiff testified at his deposition that he knew about the defendants' dismissal policy; and (4) that the plaintiff was dismissed from the defendants' LSAT preparatory because he was disruptive.

As to the individually named defendants, the court held that their alleged conduct did not rise to the level of "extreme and outrageous conduct" and, based upon complaints from other students, which the court also found uncontroverted, statements made by the individual defendants to the plaintiff such as, "Why do you even bother showing up to class?" and actions, including dismissal from class, seemed fit. As to the plaintiff's repeated contention that he was wrongfully targeted for simply getting up to use the restroom, the court found the plaintiff "mischaracterized" not only his verified complaint allegations but ignored the admissible evidence from the defendants. The court explained, "defendants did not dismiss [plaintiff] from class for going to the bathroom on one occasion, they dismissed [plaintiff] for being disruptive, irate, talking on the phone, arguing with the proctors." Citing Cochran et al. v. Cochran, Jr., 65 Cal. App. 4th 488 (1998), the court then stated, "even if the [bathroom] allegations were true, that conduct does not rise to the level of extreme and outrageous conduct under California law." Lastly, the court overruled all of the plaintiff's objections to evidence, sustained all of the defendants' objections to the plaintiff's evidence and held that, in addition to their evidentiary defects, the plaintiff's declarations in support of his opposition to the Motion for Summary Judgment failed to address any actual legal issues including the key issue of disruption.