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Students Sue Life University


Five men who are students or former students of Life University have filed suit charging that the university and its president, Sid E. Williams, D.C., have damaged them by failing to maintain the accreditation necessary for its graduates to be eligible for licensure. The suit alleges that the defendants breached their duty to provide proper training and were negligent in failing to meet accreditation standards. The suit arose because in June 2002 the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) revoked Life's accredited status. Life is appealing CCE's ruling (which would mean that plaintiffs would be ineligible for licensure), but the plaintiffs allege that the damage to them cannot be undone even if the appeal is successful.


IN THE SUPERIOR COURT OF COBB COUNTY
STATE OF GEORGIA

PETER SCIRE, JOSHUA HESS,
RODNEY SHULTZ, CHRIS FALER,
and ANTHONY STANGELLI,
 
Plaintiffs,
 
vs.
 
SID E. WILLIAMS, individually, and,
LIFE UNIVERSITY, INC., a Georgia
corporation,
 
Defendants.
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CIVIL ACTION
FILE NO.

 

COMPLAINT FOR BREACH OF CONTRACT, NEGLIGENCE,
NEGLIGENT HIRING, NEGLIGENT RETENTION, NEGLIGENT
SUPERVISION and PROMISSORY ESTOPPEL

COMES NOW, PETER SCIRE, JOSHUA HESS, RODNEY SHULTZ, CHRIS FALER and ANTHONY STANGELLI (collectively referred to herein as "Plaintiffs"), plaintiffs in the above styled case and files this their Complaint for Breach of Contract, Negligence, Negligent Hiring, Negligent Retention, Negligent Supervision and Promissory Estoppel against Defendants SID E. WILLIAMS ("WILLIAMS"), individually and LIFE UNIVERSITY, INC. ("LIFE"), a Georgia corporation and shows this Court the following:

I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

1. Defendant WILLIAMS resides at 3635 Velma Drive, Marietta, Cobb County, Georgia and may be personally served at that address.

2. Defendant WILLIAMS is subject to the jurisdiction of this Court.

3. Defendant LIFE is a Georgia corporation whose Registered Agent for Service is Wesley A. Berry, 1269 Barclay Drive, Marietta, Cobb County, Georgia 30060. LIFE may be served at that address through it's Registered Agent for Service.

4. Defendant LIFE is subject to the jurisdiction of this Court.

5. Venue is proper in Cobb County.

II. BACKGROUND

6. Defendant LIFE has at all time relevant hereto owned and operated Life University Chiropractic College ("LUCC") which has represented itself to the general public and to prospective students as a fully accredited Chiropractic College.

7. Defendant LIFE has also represented that upon completion of the course of study at LUCC, students would be qualified for and would be eligible to take all national and state, when required by law, board examinations ( collectively "the boards") as required in order to be licensed as Doctors of Chiropractic; provided that said students have met all other requirements.

8. Based upon those representations, Plaintiffs enrolled at LUCC and paid all required tuition and other matriculation fees and costs.

9. LIFE and LUCC further represented to Plaintiffs and other students that upon completion of the course of study and achieving a successful passing score on the boards, Plaintiffs would be eligible to be licensed as a Doctor of Chiropractic ("D.C.") in any state in which they desire to practice.

10. LUCC is accredited by the Council of Chiropractic Education ("CCE") and the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities ("SACS").

11. CCE is tasked with the responsibility by the United States Department of Education of ensuring that all chiropractic colleges maintain appropriate standards in order to maintain their accreditation.

12. SACS is responsible for ensuring that all member colleges maintain the standards established separately by SACS.

13. Based upon CCE standards, a chiropractic college who fails to maintain or to meet the minimum establish standards may lose its accreditation.

14. If a chiropractic college loses its' accreditation, the students and/or graduates of that college are eligible to take national board exams at this time but the school cannot issue diplomas and therefore students cannot apply for or receive licenses to practice as chiropractors.

15.

(a) Chiropractic colleges are regularly inspected by CCE and provided with a report following the inspection outlining any deficiencies and providing corrective action to be taken in order to correct the deficiencies so as to be in compliance with the CCE standards and maintain accreditation;

(b) Prior to the inspection, each college inspected is required to conduct a "self-study" in which they evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses, make recommendations for corrective action and then design a plan to correct the identified deficiencies.

(c) Under CCE guidelines, the self study is an ongoing process which is continually being evaluated.

16. After receiving the report, the respective college is given sufficient time, usually at least one year, to take action to correct the deficiencies.

17. If the college fails to take the corrective action required, they may lose their accreditation.

18. In April 2001, CCE conducted an inspection at LUCC in accordance with the above procedures and to ensure that LUCC was in compliance with CCE standards and guidelines.

19. Prior to any the inspection, LUCC conducted a self study but failed to identify many of the obvious deficiencies, failed to address many areas of major concern to CCE and failed to provide a plan of action and/or to assign responsibility to correct any deficiencies.

20. At the conclusion of the inspection, CCE rendered a report which found that LUCC was failing to meet its criteria and made numerous recommendations to LUCC. Additionally, CCE made certain suggestions to LUCC.

21. In May 2002, CCE conducted a follow up inspection and determined that LIFE/LUCC had failed and refused to take appropriate and/or sufficient action to correct the deficiencies referenced in the April 2001 report.

22. As a result of LIFE/LUCC's failure to correct the deficiencies, on June 10, 2002, CCE revoked the accreditation of LIFE/LUCC.

23. Based upon the loss of accreditation by LIFE/LUCC, the Plaintiffs will be unable to receive licenses as D.C.'s.

24. At all times relevant hereto, Defendant WILLIAMS was the President of LIFE and the Chief Executive Officer.

25.

(a) At all times relevant hereto, WILLIAMS, individually and personally and in his capacity as President, was the final authority on all decisions which related to LIFE/LUCC, to include but not limited to all decisions regarding and relating to the self study and the correction of the deficiencies from the CCE report of April 2001;

(b) At all times relevant hereto, the Board of Trustees knew or should have known that WILLIAMS had failed to take corrective action and/or institute policies at LIFE/LUCC which would ensure that the school did not lose it's accreditation.

26.

(a) WILLIAMS and LIFE, jointly and severally, failed to take action to correct the deficiencies identified by CCE in spite of the fact that more than one year had passed since the date of the April 2001 inspection;

(b) LIFE, at the direction of WILLIAMS failed to take specific steps mandated by CCE in order for LUCC to maintain its accreditation.

27. As a result of Defendants' failure to correct the deficiencies, LIFE/LUCC lost it's accreditation on June 10, 2002.

28. LIFE has appealed the decision by CCE relating to it's loss of accreditation.

29. Even if the appeal is granted and LIFE/LUCC is re-accredited, Plaintiffs have suffered damages and out of pocket expenses.

30. If LIFE/LUCC loses it's appeal, Plaintiffs will be unable to be licensed as Doctors of Chiropractic due to the loss of accreditation.

31.

(a) Based upon this loss of accreditation and the uncertainty caused thereby, Plaintiffs have been unable to secure employment after graduation or have been unable to proceed with employment for which they had been hired prior to the loss of accreditation.

(b) Plaintiff's have suffered damages as a result thereof.

III. STATEMENT OF CLAIMS

Count I
Breach of Contract
(As to Defendant LIFE)

32. Paragraphs 1 through 31 are incorporated herein by reference as if restated in their entirety.

33. Prior to Plaintiffs enrolling at LUCC, Defendant LIFE agreed to provide Plaintiffs with a degree from an accredited university if Plaintiffs satisfactorily completed all course requirements imposed by LUCC.

34. LIFE further agreed to take all steps required by CCE and SACS to maintain such accreditation.

35. Plaintiffs accepted this offer and enrolled at LUCC.

36. Thereafter, LIFE continued to promise Plaintiffs, both implicitly and explicitly, that they would continue to take all steps required to maintain their accreditation.

37. Based upon these agreements, Plaintiffs continued to enroll in courses at LUCC each quarter thereafter.

38. These agreements by LIFE represent a valid contract under Georgia law, supported by consideration.

39. LIFE breached this agreement by failing to take the steps required to maintain their CCE accreditation.

40. Plaintiffs have complied with all of their obligations pursuant to this agreement and have in no way breached such agreement.

41. Plaintiffs are entitled to recover all actual damages which they suffered as a result of such breach.

42. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover compensatory damages from LIFE as a result of LIFE's breach of this contract with Plaintiffs.

43. LIFE has been stubbornly litigious and has acted in bad faith with respect to said contract.

44. Such actions have caused Plaintiffs unnecessary trouble and expense.

45. Therefore, pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 13-6-11, Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover from LIFE all attorney fees and costs which Plaintiffs have been forced to expend in connection with this case.

Count II
Negligence
(As to Defendants WILLIAMS and LIFE)

46. Paragraphs 1 through 45 are incorporated herein by reference as if restated in their entirety.

47. As the individual with final authority as to all policy and procedure decisions at LUCC, Defendant WILLIAMS owed a duty to Plaintiffs and all other students at LUCC to take all reasonable actions required to maintain LUCC's accreditation with CCE.

48. WILLIAMS further owed a duty to install at LUCC any specific policies and procedures necessary to satisfy the requirements imposed upon schools by CCE.

49. WILLIAMS breached this duty by failing to install all policies and procedures required by CCE.

50. (a) WILLIAMS further breached this duty by failing to take the actions required by CCE for LUCC to maintain its accreditation;
(b) As a direct and proximate result of such negligence, LUCC lost its accreditation with CCE.
(c). Defendants, jointly and severally, also failed to provide an adequate educational environment to the Plaintiffs and other students at Life University.

51. Such conduct by WILLIAMS and LIFE represents negligence.

52. WILLIAMS' actions/inactions in this regard were done in his capacity as an employee of LIFE.

53. Such actions/inactions were in furtherance of LIFE's business and were done in the course of WILLIAMS' employment with LIFE.

54. LIFE further ratified WILLIAMS' conduct by continuing to allow him to have final decision-making authority regarding these issues.

55. As such, LIFE is jointly and severally liable with WILLIAMS for WILLIAMS' negligent conduct.

56. Plaintiffs are entitled to recover of LIFE and WILLIAMS, jointly and severally, all damages which they suffered as a result of such negligence.

57. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover of LIFE and WILLIAMS, jointly and severally, compensatory damages as a result of such negligence.

58. As the actions of Defendants represent a reckless disregard for the consequences of their actions, Plaintiffs are entitled to recover punitive damages from LIFE and WILLIAMS, jointly and severally, to punish these defendants and deter such conduct in the future.

59. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover of Defendants LIFE and WILLIAMS, jointly and severally, all attorney fees and costs which they incur in connection with this action.

COUNT III
Negligent Hiring
(As to Defendant LIFE)

60. Paragraphs 1 through 59 are incorporated herein by reference as if restated in their entirety.

61. Defendant LIFE owed a duty to Plaintiffs and all other students at LUCC to exercise ordinary diligence in hiring the individual who had ultimate authority in ensuring that LUCC complied with all of the accreditation requirements imposed by SACS and CCE.

62. To that end, LIFE owed the students of LUCC a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that the individual they hired as President of LUCC knew the necessary steps required to achieve the requirements imposed by SACS and CCE and was capable of achieving such requirements.

63. Although LIFE hired WILLIAMS as President, WILLIAMS was not qualified to serve in that capacity because he did not know the necessary steps required to maintain accreditation through SACS and CCE.

64. WILLIAMS was also not qualified to determine whether the proper actions were being taken by LUCC to ensure compliance with the CCE and SACS standards.

65. WILLIAMS was also not qualified to implement to proper policies and procedures at LUCC to bring LUCC in compliance with the CCE and SACS standards after being notified by such agencies that LUCC was not in compliance with these standards.

66. Prior to hiring WILLIAMS, LIFE failed to take any steps to determine if WILLIAMS was qualified to hold the position of President and to have final decision-making authority with respect to all accreditation issues at LIFE.

67. LIFE breached these obligations to Plaintiffs and the other LUCC students by hiring WILLIAMS into the position of President, when WILLIAMS did not have the necessary knowledge to achieve the requirements imposed by these accreditation agencies.

68. LIFE further breached these obligations by hiring WILLIAMS into the position of President, when WILLIAMS was not capable of achieving the requirements imposed by these accreditation agencies.

69. As a direct and proximate result of such breaches, LUCC lost its accreditation with CCE.

70. Such conduct by LIFE represents negligence.

71. Plaintiffs are entitled to recover of LIFE all actual damages which they suffered as a result of such negligence.

72. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover of LIFE compensatory damages as a result of such negligence.

73. As the actions of LIFE represent a reckless disregard for the consequences of its actions, Plaintiffs are entitled to recover punitive damages from LIFE to punish this defendant and deter such conduct in the future.

74. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover of Defendant LIFE all attorney fees and costs which they incur in connection with this action.

COUNT IV
Negligent Retention
(As to Defendant LIFE)

75. Paragraphs 1 through 74 are incorporated herein by reference as if restated in their entirety.

76. Defendant LIFE owed a duty to Plaintiffs and all other students at LUCC to exercise ordinary diligence in ensuring that the individual who had ultimate authority in ensuring that LUCC complied with all of the accreditation requirements imposed by SACS and CCE. was qualified to hold the position and to ensure that the accreditation requirements were met.

77. To that end, LIFE owed the students of LUCC a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that the individual they employed as President of LUCC knew the necessary steps required to achieve the requirements imposed by SACS and CCE and continued to take the actions necessary to ensure that such requirements were being achieved by LUCC.

78. WILLIAMS was not qualified to serve in the capacity as President because he did not know the necessary steps required to maintain accreditation through SACS and CCE.

79. WILLIAMS was also not qualified to ensure that LUCC was taking the proper actions to maintain compliance with the CCE and SACS standards.

80. WILLIAMS was also not qualified to implement the proper policies and procedures at LUCC to bring LUCC in compliance with the CCE and SACS standards after being notified by such agencies that LUCC was not in compliance with these standards.

81. On several occasions, SACS and/or CCE provided LIFE with notice that LUCC was not taking the proper actions to maintain the CCE and SACS standards.

82. As such, LIFE was on notice that WILLIAMS was not qualified to handle the responsibilities of ensuring compliance with the SACS and CCE standards.

83. Despite this notice, LIFE continued to employ WILLIAMS as the President of LUCC.

84. Such actions by LIFE in retaining WILLIAMS after receiving notice of his deficient performance represents a breach of LIFE's obligations to Plaintiffs and the other LUCC students.

85. As a direct and proximate result of such breach, LUCC lost its accreditation with CCE.

86. Such conduct by LIFE represents negligence.

87. Plaintiffs are entitled to recover of LIFE all actual damages which they suffered as a result of such negligence.

88. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover of LIFE compensatory damages as a result of such negligence.

89. As the actions of LIFE represent a reckless disregard for the consequences of its actions, Plaintiffs are entitled to recover punitive damages from LIFE to punish this defendant and deter such conduct in the future.

90. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover of Defendant LIFE all attorney fees and costs which they incur in connection with this action.

COUNT V
Negligent Supervision
(As to Defendant LIFE)

91. Paragraphs 1 through 90 are incorporated herein by reference as if restated in their entirety.

92. Defendant LIFE owed a duty to Plaintiffs and all other students at LUCC to properly supervise their employees in order to ensure that those employees were taking all reasonably necessary actions to maintain the standards imposed by SACS and CCE

93. On several occasions, SACS and/or CCE provided LIFE with notice that LUCC was not taking the proper actions to maintain the CCE and SACS standards.

94. Despite this notice, LIFE failed to take any steps to ensure that their employees, to include Defendant WILLIAMS, were taking all reasonably necessary actions to ensure that LUCC maintained the standards imposed by SACS and CCE.

95. Additionally, LIFE failed to take any steps to properly supervise their employees in their duties relating to LUCC's accreditation.

96. Such actions by LIFE represent a breach of LIFE's obligations to Plaintiffs, as described above.

97. As a direct and proximate result of such negligence, LUCC lost its accreditation with CCE.

98. Such conduct by LIFE represents negligence

99. Plaintiffs are entitled to recover of LIFE all actual damages which they suffered as a result of such negligence.

100. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover of LIFE compensatory damages as a result of such negligence.

101. As the actions of LIFE represent a reckless disregard for the consequences of its actions, Plaintiffs are entitled to recover punitive damages from LIFE to punish this defendant and deter such conduct in the future.

102. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover of Defendant LIFE all attorney fees and costs which they incur in connection with this action.

COUNT VI
Promissory Estoppel
(As to Defendant LIFE)

103. Paragraphs 1 through 102 are incorporated herein by reference as if restated in their entirety.

104. Prior to the Plaintiffs enrolling at LUCC, LIFE, through its agents and representatives, promised Plaintiffs that they would receive a degree from an accredited university upon completion of all course requirements at LUCC.

105. LIFE further promised Plaintiffs that they would be eligible to sit for any chiropractic licensing examinations offered in the United States once they received their degree from LUCC.

106. Plaintiffs relied upon such statements by enrolling at LUCC and foregoing opportunities to attend other chiropractic institutions.

107. Such reliance by Plaintiffs was reasonable.

108. After Plaintiffs enrolled at LUCC, they discovered that it had lost its accreditation.

109. Plaintiffs further discovered that they will not be eligible to take the licensing exams from their home states, as a result of LUCC losing its CCE accreditation.

110. Plaintiffs have suffered damages as a result of their reliance upon these statements by LIFE.

111. Plaintiffs are entitled to recover of LIFE all actual and consequential damages which they have suffered, as described above, under the doctrine of promissory estoppel.

112. Plaintiffs are further entitled to recover of Defendant LIFE all attorney fees and costs which they incur in connection with this action.

WHEREFORE Plaintiffs demand:

(a) That summons issue as provided by law;

(b) That the Sheriff of Cobb County properly serve both Defendants as provided by law; and

(c) That Plaintiffs have a trial by a jury of their peers as to all issues plead herein; and

(d) That the Plaintiffs have and recover of Defendants, jointly and severally, all actual damages that they have incurred and as will be shown by the evidence at trial; and

(e) That the Plaintiffs have and recover of Defendants, jointly and severally, general damages for their pain and suffering in an amount to be determined by the enlightened conscience of an impartial jury; and

(f) That the Plaintiffs have and recover of Defendants, jointly and severally, punitive damages in an amount to be determined by the enlightened conscience of an impartial jury, but in no event, less than $250,000.00 per Plaintiff, per count; and

(g) That the Plaintiffs have and recover of Defendants, jointly and severally, reasonable attorney fees and costs of this action; and

(h) That the Plaintiffs have such other and further relief as this Court may deem just and equitable.

Respectfully submitted,

CARY S. KING
Attorney for Plaintiffs
Ga. Bar Number 419810
 
SCOTT R. KING
Co-Counsel
Ga. Bar Number 421345
SLATER & KING
1201 Peachtree St., N.E.
Suite 1100
Atlanta, GA 30361
(404) 888-0500

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This article was posted on October 11, 2002.