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Welenc v. University of Delaware

Superior Court of Delaware

November 20, 2017

LARRY M. WELENC, Plaintiff,
v.
THE UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE, Defendant.

          Submitted: August 24, 2017

         Upon Defendants' Motion to Dismiss:

          Granted Larry M. Welenc, Pro Se.

          William E. Manning, Esq., and Gerard M. Clodomir, Esq. of SAUL EWING, LLP, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for the University of Delaware.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LeGROW, J.

          This case involves the alleged breach of a 1981 settlement agreement between a student of the University of Delaware and the University's administration, along with alleged defamation by the University regarding the plaintiffs academic and disciplinary record. The University has moved to dismiss the claims as time-barred. The question before the Court is whether the claims presented are barred by the statute of limitations when the plaintiff became aware of the alleged breach and defamation back in 2000. Due to the extended time that elapsed after the plaintiffs discovery of the facts underlying his claims, I conclude the claims are time-barred and therefore grant the defendant's motion. My reasoning follows.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The following facts are drawn from the amended complaint and the documents it incorporates, drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. The facts involve events from the plaintiffs college years through 2001.

         In 1978, Larry Welenc ("Welenc") transferred from Rider College in New Jersey to the University of Delaware (the "University") to increase his chances for admission to a master's program in geology. In 1979, Welenc won the lottery for a room in Christina Hall dormitory. Before he moved into Christina Hall, Welenc received a visit from two fellow students. One was another lottery-winning student who was designated to room with Welenc, the other was the lottery-winner's friend, a tackle from the University's football team. The visitors warned Welenc that they would remove him if he tried to occupy the room in Christina Hall the following spring. After the visitors left, Welenc reported the incident to the Director of Department Housing. Based on this experience, Welenc avoided the football team members and anyone associated with them.

         Nine months after the incident, a female student, who was a known associate of the other lottery-winner, charged Welenc with harassment. Five students expressed their concerns with Welenc's behavior to the Dean of Students, Raymond Eddy. Dean Eddy, along with the University's Behavior Evaluation Committee (the "Committee"), required Welenc to meet with the University Psychiatrist, Dr. Spinelli. Welenc had been off campus and did not receive the request for appointment. When Welenc failed to schedule an appointment with Dr. Spinelli by the requested date, the Committee directed Welenc to be withdrawn involuntarily from the University. Welenc, upon learning of the request, contacted Student Health Services and scheduled an evaluative interview with Dr. Spinelli. After the interview, Dr. Spinelli recommended Welenc's readmission.

         Meanwhile, the scheduled disciplinary hearing for Welenc's alleged harassment was canceled because the female accuser and her witnesses decided not to attend the hearing. The Associate Dean of Students, Timothy Brooks, dropped the disciplinary charges at the request of the security department. The University readmitted Welenc, but restricted his access to the residence and dining halls. Welenc suspected the University administration made these restrictions made out of malice.

         During Easter break in 1980, campus security confiscated several marijuana plants from the Pencader Dormitory. Welenc, though not a resident of Pencader, interceded on the marijuana-growers' behalf to Dean Eddy. Welenc alleges his intercession contributed to the administration's malice toward him.

         As a result of the disciplinary procedure and involuntary withdrawal, Welenc incurred out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and lost funds paid to the University. He also grew concerned about the incident's effect on his academic record and wanted his file destroyed. On July 7, 1980, Welenc's attorney, Norman Levine, sent a letter to the University claiming $8, 938.63 in damages.

         The University settled Welenc's claim for $1, 500 (the "Settlement Agreement"). The letter confirming the Settlement Agreement stated Welenc's files would "be disposed of in the same manner as all student files."[1] The University also allegedly represented they would not delay issuing his diploma upon graduation.

         Welenc completed his course work in December 1979, but his major required students to attend a summer field camp for geology in Nevada during the summer of 1980. The University thus awarded Welenc his degree after completion of the field camp in August 1980. Welenc's diploma is dated 1981; Welenc alleges he did not notice the date and assumed his diploma was dated 1980.

         Since 1980, Welenc has applied to various government and private positions. Some of those applications were rejected, he believes, either because of the date on his diploma or because the University conveyed to those prospective employers an inaccurate version of Welenc's disciplinary record.

         Sometime in the year 2000, Welenc discovered his diploma was dated 1981, rather than 1980, and he so informed the University.[2] The University explained to Welenc that, at the time his diploma was issued, the University only issued diplomas once every academic year and, because Welenc did not complete his coursework by May 1980, his diploma was not issued until the following academic year. Despite Welenc's efforts, the University declined to change the date on the diploma. In April 2017, Welenc filed suit against the University alleging breach of contract, defamation, and slander, as well as an order compelling the University to change the date on his diploma. The University moved to dismiss and the parties briefed and argued that motion. Welenc also moved to sanction the University's attorney for alleged derogatory statements and accusations of harassment.

         THE PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         Welenc argues the University maliciously altered the date of his diploma and retained and disclosed the contents of his student file because of the disciplinary incidents in 1979 and 1980. Welenc first argues the post-dating of his diploma, as well as the retention of his student file, is a breach of the 1981 Settlement Agreement with the University. He seeks an order compelling the University to change the date of his diploma to reflect the calendar year of his graduation. Welenc also argues the University defamed him by misrepresenting the date of his graduation and by disclosing his record ...


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