Woman who lost lawsuit over master's degree faces $178,000 legal cost bill from NUS insurers

A former master's degree candidate who lost her lawsuit against the National University of Singapore (NUS) last year has to pay its insurers about $178,000 in legal costs.

Ms Jeanne-Marie Ten, 48, posted the payment letter of demand from the insurers' law firm Drew & Napier sent earlier this month on her Facebook page, saying NUS is suing her for it.

The sum is for the legal costs fixed by the court that Ms Ten has to pay NUS which its insurers are seeking to enforce against her.

In the wake of Ms Ten's FB posting, NUS issued a statement on Friday (Dec 27), saying it had expressed its reservations to the insurers about enforcing the costs orders, but "acknowledges the legal right of the insurers to act in NUS' name".

The statement is the latest twist in the long-running legal battle which began in August 2012.

Ms Ten, who was pursuing a Master of Arts (Architecture) by research at the NUS School of Design and Environment, had sued for the degree and damages.

She alleged, among other things, that the university and various officers colluded against her and as a result, she failed to be conferred the degree in 2006.

Following an eight-day trial in 2017, the High Court reserved judgment and dismissed her suit in July last year.

It rejected all her claims against NUS for negligence, breach of contract, misfeasance of public office and intimidation.

But the court accepted that she had cleared the academic hurdles for the degree. It, however, found that she had failed to meet the university's administrative requirements.

She had submitted only one copy of the thesis. She failed to upload it electronically or sign and submit Form RO.85 as required for reasons that emerged in the court proceedings.

The judge found, among other things, she would not have submitted the form, as her "true reason" given in court for failing to submit the form included "her misplaced fear" that her work would be used by her thesis supervisor without proper acknowledgement.

The form contained various warranties which NUS was entitled to obtain from candidates, and one of them was that the candidate had observed guidelines on research integrity.

Three weeks ago, lawyers from Drew & Napier sent her, on the insurers' behalf, the legal costs bill that now totalled $177,843 due from her.

This comprised two High Court costs orders that were issued against her in July 2016 and July this year plus interest.

But NUS noted in its statement: "For the past seven years, the insurers have borne the cost of NUS' legal defence against the lawsuit commenced by Ms Ten.

"While the university would not enforce the costs orders, it acknowledges the legal right of the insurers to act in NUS' name and to enforce against Ms Ten as they deem appropriate."

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NUS also said it had met its insurers to express its reservations and concerns about their decision to enforce the costs orders.

"Ultimately, based on the terms and conditions of the insurance policy, the insurers have the right of recovery and thus decided to proceed with enforcement action against Ms Ten," it added.

NUS attributed the long-running dispute to the various applications and appeals she filed in the High Court and Court of Appeal, causing the lawsuit hearing to be delayed until 2017.

It also noted that Ms Ten was represented by three different law firms during the duration of the suit.

NUS said that throughout the dispute, it sought to resolve the matter amicably, including facilitating the conferment of the degree.

It made three offers to her, through the Education Ministry, in 2011, 2017 and 2018. She rejected all of them.

She also did not respond to NUS' proposal in 2014 to go for mediation.

"As far as the legal proceedings are concerned, Ms Ten has not filed an appeal against NUS and the deadline for filing an appeal has passed," said the university.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.