Judge reverses ruling on man's suit against Penn

Posted: October 26, 2010

Frank Reynolds won a jury verdict last October for $435,678 in damages from the University of Pennsylvania after contending in a trial that his engineering-management degree from Penn was not as valuable as the Wharton School degree he expected when he enrolled. Reynolds won again this summer at a retrial of his suit, though for a smaller amount: $66,000.

But Monday, more than eight years after Reynolds enrolled in Penn's Executive Masters in Technology Management program, the CEO of a Massachusetts biotech firm got bad news: A federal judge reversed the second jury's verdict and instead found in favor of Penn, and refused to grant Reynolds' plea for a third trial.

Rather than collect damages from Penn, Reynolds may now have to pay the university. U.S. District Judge Thomas N. O'Neill Jr. ordered him to cover $7,438 in costs that Penn incurred in what the judge ruled was a needless evidentiary dispute.

If the ruling stands, it represents a dramatic reversal for Reynolds.

In October 2009, the original federal jury awarded Reynolds more than $435,000 based on a breach-of-contract claim, accepting his argument that he did not get what he had grounds to expect when he enrolled - a degree bearing the prestigious Wharton name.

Although the program was cosponsored and co-taught by Wharton, and graduates had access to Wharton alumni resources, they received engineering degrees from Penn and certificates cosigned by the deans of the engineering school and of Wharton.

During the retrial, the new jury heard evidence that either Reynolds or another student had doctored a Power Point presentation to bolster their claims that Penn misrepresented the program's links with Wharton.

After a weeklong trial, the second jury ruled against Reynolds on the breach-of-contract claim, but found that Penn had been "unjustly enriched" by taking his tuition.

O'Neill ruled that since the jury found that Reynolds and Penn had entered into a contract, however ambiguous, Reynolds could not win unjust-enrichment damages under Pennsylvania law.

"Penn did everything that it promised to do," said its attorney, James P. Golden.

Neither Reynolds, a top executive at InVivo Therapeutics in Cambridge, Mass., nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

Contact staff writer Jeff Gelles at 215-854-2776 or jgelles@phillynews.com.

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