Salve Regina College v. Russell

499 U.S. 225 (1991)


D is an institution of higher education. Russell (P) was admitted to the college and began her studies as a freshman in 1982. P sought admission to the college's nursing department in order to pursue a bachelor of science degree in nursing. She was accepted by the department and began her nursing studies in the fall of 1983. P was 5'6' tall and weighed in excess of 300 pounds when she was accepted in the nursing program. P's weight became a topic of commentary and concern by officials of the nursing program and its effect upon her ability to complete the clinical requirements safely and satisfactorily. P signed a document that was designated as a 'contract' and conditioned her further participation in the nursing program upon weekly attendance at a weight-loss seminar and a realized average loss of two pounds per week. P failed and was asked to withdraw from the program and did so. P transferred and had to repeat her junior year in order to satisfy the transferee institution's 2-year residency requirement. P also underwent surgery for her obesity. In 1987, P successfully completed her nursing education, and she is now a registered nurse. P sued D in diversity for (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress, (2) invasion of privacy, and (3) nonperformance by D of its implied agreement to educate P. At the close of P's case-in-chief, the District Court directed a verdict for the individual defendants and the college on the claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy. It denied D's motion for a directed verdict on the breach-of-contract claim. At the close of all the evidence, D renewed its motion in that under Rhode Island law the strict commercial doctrine of substantial performance did not apply in the general academic context. The motion was denied in that the District Court concluded, as a matter of law, that the Supreme Court of Rhode Island would apply that doctrine to the facts of P's case. P got the verdict, and both parties appealed. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed. The appeals court standard was deference to the District Court’s judgment on what the state Supreme Court would do with unsettled law. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.