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Where there is a legal right of recovery but the amount cannot be determined precisely, the court has reasonable discretion to assess an amount based upon all the facts and circumstances.
On February 7, 1983, defendant Louisiana Business College of Monroe contracted under an "enrollment contract" to train plaintiff Shelva Maria Fussell for a position as a legal secretary for $ 3,600 in tuition. Within four months, on May 26, 1983, Fussell was suspended for being a "disruptive influence." The college refused to readmit Fussell unless she signed a document admitting she had been a disruptive influence, agreeing to a future suspension if she again became a disruptive influence, and agreeing that the evaluation of her future conduct was to be left to the sole discretion of the school administrator. Fussell refused to sign the statement and instead brought this action for breach of contract. The trial court found that the college was justified in suspending Fussell. In an earlier review, the appellate court found that Fussell made a prima facie case of breach of contract by the college, and remanded the proceedings for the college to show “by competent evidence that the breach was that of [Fussell], rather than its own, and to show that the [Fussell’s] dismissal was justified.” On remand, the trial court held that “if the [college] breached its contract to give [Fussell] a course of study by suspending her, it was because Fussell had breached her contractual responsibilities to conduct herself as a responsible adult by creating and/or exacerbating the turmoil which could not be tolerated in academic surroundings.”
Should Fussell be granted damages for monetary loss and the delay of her education caused by her unjustified suspension?
The college apparently contends that Fussell owed 70 percent of the tuition under the withdrawal provision of the enrollment contract: “I understand that withdrawal after the commencement of classes, the refund policy shall be: * * * 4. During the second 25 % of the course the college will retain 70 % of the stated course price. (Emphasis added.)” However, this provision does not provide for involuntary and unjustified suspensions. Fussell contracted for about a year's course of instruction that would prepare her for employment as a legal secretary. Despite the fact that Fussell successfully completed about four months of the course, the college did not prepare Fussell to qualify for a position as a legal secretary. Fussell received no academic credits and nothing of scholastic value. Accordingly, the college is liable to return the $ 2,087.50 it received for Fussell’s tuition.
Further, Fussell’s secretarial training and prospects for employment were delayed by the college’s breach. Although the precise monetary loss brought about by this delay cannot be calculated, Fussell is nevertheless entitled to compensation. Ms. Throckmorton, an employee of the state job placement office and an expert in vocational job placement, testified that a beginning legal secretary with the one year of training that plaintiff contracted for could expect to earn between $ 600 and $ 750 per month. Fussell enrolled at Northeast Louisiana University in January 1984, about eight months after she was suspended by the college. The delay attributable to the college is the four months Fussell was enrolled in the college.