By: Gregorio M. Batiller, Jr.

At issue in this case is whether or not an educational institution may be held liable in damages for misleading a student into believing that he has satisfied all requirements for graduation when such was not the case.

Jose is a 4th year law student at the Z. University. He failed to take the regular final examination in Practice Court for which he was given an incomplete grade. In the second semester, he filed an application for removal of the incomplete grade and took the examination for Practice Court. That was in March. His professor gave him a failing grade but which was belatedly submitted on May 30. In the interim, on April 16, Jose’s name was included in the tentative list of candidates for graduation with a degree of Bachelor of Laws.

Jose attended the investiture ceremonies. During the graduation program, he went up the stage when his name was called escorted by his mother and eldest brother. And he was thereafter handed by the Dean a roll of white paper symbolic of a law diploma. His relatives took pictures of the occasion. He then tendered a blow out that was attended by neighbors, friends and relatives who wished him luck in the forth coming bar examinations. He then took a leave of absence without pay from his job to enroll at a pre-bar course. Thereafter, having learned of the deficiency, he dropped his review class. Jose then sued the University for moral damages, exemplary damages, unrealized income, attorney’s fees and costs of suit.

The lower court ruled in favor of Jose and awarded him P35,000.00 in damages plus P5,000.00 for attorney’s fees and costs of suit. On appeal to the Court of Appeals, the Court of Appeals granted an additional P50,000.00 for moral damages. The University filed a Petition for Review with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court denied the petition and clarified that “when a student is enrolled in any education or learning institution, a contract of education is
entered into by and between the institution and the student. The professors, teachers or instructors hired by the school are considered merely as agents”. The student is therefore not duty bound to deal with the agents with respect to the status or results of his grades. It is the contractual obligation of the school to
timely inform him or her that he/she has already complied with all the requirements for the conferment of a degree or whether he/she would be included among those who will graduate. So the University in belatedly informing Jose of the result of his removal examination, particularly at the time when he was preparing for the bar exams acted in bad faith. However, in sudden twist of logic, the Supreme Court argued:

“However, while petitioner was guilty of
negligence and thus liable to respondent for the latter’s
actual damages; we hold that respondent should not
have been awarded moral damages. We do not agree
with the Court of Appeals’ findings that respondent
suffered shock, trauma and pain when he was informed
that he could not graduate and will not be allowed to
take the bar examinations. At the very least, it
behooved on respondent to verify for himself whether
he has completed all necessary requirements to be
eligible for the bar examinations. As a senior law
student, respondent should have been responsible
enough to ensure that all his affairs, specifically those
pertaining to his academic achievement, are in order.
Given these considerations, we fail to see how
respondent could have suffered untold embarrassment
in attending the graduation rites, enrolling in the bar
review classes and not being able to take the bar

Hence, the Court deleted the award of moral damages. I wonder if the result would have been the same if the law student happened to be a relative of a justice. Or what else could possibly constitute compensable embarrassment?