Wednesday, December 25, 2013

O’Brian v. Langley School case brief

O’Brian v. Langley School case brief summary
507 S.E.2d 363 (1998)

Plaintiff school filed an action in the Circuit Court of Arlington County (Virginia), alleging defendant parents breached the terms of a school membership agreement regarding a late withdrawal of the parents' daughter from enrollment for upcoming year. The circuit court denied the parents' motion to compel discovery and granted the school summary judgment, awarding the school full tuition, late fees, and attorney's fees. The parents appealed.

The school membership agreement contained a liquidated damages clause requiring the parents to pay tuition for an entire academic year to the school for failure to give timely notice of the parents' decision to withdraw their daughter from the school. The school claimed that error existed because the parents were asserting an invalid liquidated damages clause defense that was not legally cognizable.


  • The court did not find error but found that summary judgment for the school was improper before permitting the parents to conduct discovery with regard to their defense that the clause was an unenforceable penalty. 
  • The court reversed the judgment, concluding that the circuit court's actions in denying the parents' motion to compel discovery substantially affected the parents' ability and right to litigate the validity of the clause. 
  • The parents had the burden of proof as the party challenging the validity of the clause, and remand was proper to allow discovery to satisfy that burden of proof.
The court reversed the judgment of the circuit court and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.

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