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Ottgen v. Clover Park Technical College

October 4, 1996

DUANE OTTGEN, JEANNE LAVILLE, ROBERT FOLK, CHRISTEL WILTBANK, AND ROGER KIBLINGER, APPELLANTS,
v.
CLOVER PARK TECHNICAL COLLEGE, RESPONDENTS.



Appeal from Superior Court of Pierce County. Docket No: 93-2-04623-1. Date filed: 07/28/94. Judge signing: Hon. Thomas A. Swayze JR.

Released for Publication December 6, 1996.

Authored by John E. Turner. Concurring: Carroll C. Bridgewater, David H. Armstrong

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Turner

TURNER, J. -- Duane Ottgen and four other students appeal the trial court's dismissal of their claims for breach of contract and violation of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The students claim that their teacher's representations as to course content created a contract between them and the college. We affirm the trial court's dismissal of the breach of contract claim. The students failed to prove mutual assent between themselves and the college and thereby failed to establish the existence of a binding contract. The students CPA action was properly dismissed because the college is exempt from the CPA. Affirmed.

FACTS

In 1988, Washington passed the Certified Real Estate Appraiser Act, RCW ch. 18.140. Laws of 1989, ch. 414 (1990). To be a certified or licensed real estate appraiser, one must satisfy both educational and experience requirements. RCW 18.140.080 - .090. The education requirement is between 75 and 165 classroom hours. *fn1 WAC 308-125-030(1). To meet the experience requirement, 3,000 hours of actual appraisal work must be completed over two to five years. WAC 308-125-070.

In response to the anticipated need for certified real estate appraisers, Clover Park Technical College (CPTC) established an educational program to train students for entry level employment in the real estate appraising business. The "Professional Residential Real Estate Appraiser" program offered by CPTC involved some 800 hours of classroom instruction and approximately 300 hours of realistic training. The program far exceeded the minimum classroom hours required for appraiser certification. Course information stated that its objective was to qualify students for entry-level employment in the residential real estate appraising industry. None of the material said the course was designed to meet state certification requirements. The Department of Licensing provides, upon request, information packets containing a two-page explanation of the certification requirements and copies of applicable RCW and WAC provisions.

CPTC hired Mike Balkwill to teach the appraiser course. In early 1991, Mike Balkwill apparently negotiated an agreement with an organization called TRW. Under this agreement, CPTC students would do appraisals for a fee and be supervised by TRW. This part of the course was intended to provide realistic training for CPTC students but not necessarily to provide students with experience toward state certification requirements.

Duane Ottgen and four other students wanted to become certified real estate appraisers. They attended orientation sessions and enrolled in the "Professional Residential Real Estate Appraiser" program offered by CPTC. Apparently, Balkwill made a number of representations about the course to the students during the orientation sessions. Students testified that he told them the program would provide 1,000 hours of doing for-fee appraisals for TRW and that those hours would count toward the experience requirement for state certification.

The students attended the CPTC program in 1991 and 1992. In 1992, TRW backed out of its agreement with Balkwill. Thus, the students obtained little or no work experience to satisfy state certification requirements.

Balkwill was terminated in the summer of 1992 and replaced by Robert Woodward. Woodward informed appellants that the course would meet only the educational requirements for state certification and that excess course work would not substitute as part of the experience requirement. All of the students continued and ultimately finished the course. The CPTC program provided students with sufficient educational hours to satisfy the educational requirements for the highest level of state appraisal certification. The students said they would not have taken the course, however, had they known that no work experience hours toward certification would be earned.

The students sued CPTC for breach of contract and violation of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The students' CPA action was dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. A bench trial was held on the sole issue of whether CPTC a breached a contract.

The trial court found that: (1) Balkwill indeed represented that at least 1,000 hours of actual appraisal would be applied toward certification; and (2) no school catalogue or written statements of CPTC guaranteed that the course would provide experience toward certification. The trial court concluded that: no contract existed between students and CPTC to provide work experience; the agreement between CPTC and TRW was uncertain; and ...


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