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VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIV.
September 17, 1999
Record No. 982473
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH UNIVERSITY
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND
Theodore J. Markow, Judge
Present: All the Justices
OPINION BY JUSTICE LEROY R. HASSELL, SR.
In this appeal, we consider whether the circuit
court erred in approving a university’s decision to deny a
student’s request for in-state tuition charges.
Meera P. Ravindranathan, then a first-year
medical student at the Medical College of Virginia of Virginia
Commonwealth University ("VCU"), filed a request for
in-state tuition benefits. She stated, in her "Application
For Change of Domicile for Virginia In-State Tuition Rates,"
that her specific reason for changing her domicile from Illinois
to Virginia was because her "boyfriend" resided in
Virginia. She stated that her present intention was to remain in
Virginia indefinitely because she "like[d] living in
Virginia. My boyfriend will be settling in Northern Virginia so I
also plan to stay in Virginia."
Ravindranathan also included the following
relevant facts in her application. She is registered to vote in
Virginia. She possesses a valid Virginia driver’s license. She
owns a car that is registered in Virginia. She has checking and
savings accounts with financial institutions in Virginia. She
filed a Virginia state resident income tax return the year
preceding the date of her application, and she did not file any
state income tax returns in any other state during the period
covering three years from the date of her application.
Brenda H. Jones, a residency officer at VCU,
denied Ravindranathan’s application. Jones concluded that
Ravindranathan’s primary reason for having moved from her
parents’ home in Illinois to Virginia was to attend VCU.
Ravindranathan appealed the residency officer’s
decision to VCU’s Residency Appeals Committee. Ravindranathan
appeared before the Committee and reasserted the facts that were
contained in her application. The following additional facts were
established during that hearing.
Ravindranathan entered VCU as a freshman in
August 1993. At that time, she was a resident of Illinois. She
was admitted in a program which guaranteed her admission to VCU’s
medical school upon completion of her undergraduate studies.
Ravindranathan completed the requirements for her undergraduate
degree a semester early, and she worked as a full-time employee
with a bank from February 1996 until June 1996.
Ravindranathan stated that she decided to make
the Commonwealth of Virginia her permanent residence before she
began her first year of medical school. Her father, a physician
in Illinois, has obtained a license to practice medicine in
Virginia, and her parents intend to move to Virginia upon his
retirement from his medical practice in Illinois. Ravindranathan
testified that her father "cosigned for a loan," and
she used the proceeds to purchase a condominium in Richmond.
The Residency Appeals Committee denied
Ravindranathan’s request for in-state tuition benefits. The
Committee stated, in a letter to Ravindranathan:
"Based on your application, oral
presentation and documentation submitted, it was the
judgment of the Committee that there was not clear and
convincing evidence of your intent to make Virginia your
domicile. The Committee denied your request for in-state
. . .
"The Committee’s interpretation of
the information presented is that you came to Virginia
for educational purposes and that those purposes are your
primary reason for remaining in Virginia at this time. It
was the opinion of the Committee that your actions to
date do not provide sufficient documentation to rebut
successfully the presumption that you came to Virginia
for educational purposes."
Ravindranathan filed a "Petition for
Recognition of Virginia Domicile" in the circuit court. She
alleged that the Committee’s decision was arbitrary and
capricious. VCU responded to the petition, the circuit court
reviewed the record, and considered argument of counsel. The
circuit court held that the Committee’s decision was not
arbitrary and, therefore, entered a judgment in favor of VCU.
Code ? 23-7.4(B), which governs
eligibility for in-state tuition charges at state-supported
colleges and universities, states in relevant part:
"To become eligible for in-state
tuition, an independent student shall establish by clear
and convincing evidence that for a period of at least one
year immediately prior to the date of the alleged
entitlement, he was domiciled in Virginia and had
abandoned any previous domicile, if such existed.
. . . .
"In determining domiciliary
intent, all of the following applicable factors shall be
considered: continuous residence for at least one year
prior to the date of alleged entitlement, state to which
income taxes are filed or paid, driver’s license, motor
vehicle registration, voter registration, employment,
property ownership, sources of financial support,
military records, a written offer and acceptance of
employment following graduation, and any other social or
economic relationships with the Commonwealth and other
"Domiciliary status shall not
ordinarily be conferred by the performance of acts which
are auxiliary to fulfilling educational objectives or are
required or routinely performed by temporary residents of
the Commonwealth. Mere physical presence or residence
primarily for educational purposes shall not confer
domiciliary status. A matriculating student who has
entered an institution and is classified as an
out-of-state student shall be required to rebut by clear
and convincing evidence the presumption that he is in the
Commonwealth for the purpose of attending school and not
as a bona fide domiciliary."
Code ? 23-7.4:3(A), which is also
pertinent to our resolution of this appeal, states in relevant
"Any party aggrieved by a final
administrative decision shall have the right to review in
the circuit court for the jurisdiction in which the
relevant institution is located. A petition for review of
the final administrative decision shall be filed within
thirty days of receiving the written decision. In any
such action, the institution shall forward the record to
the court, whose function shall be only to determine
whether the decision reached by the institution could
reasonably be said, on the basis of the record, not to be
arbitrary, capricious or otherwise contrary to law."
Ravindranathan argues that the evidence that
she presented before the Residency Appeals Committee rebutted the
statutory presumption of nonresidency. Continuing, she states
that "there is no evidence in the record which could
arguably be said to support the decision of the Committee."
Ravindranathan asserts that the circuit court "erred by
treating the statutory presumption of nonresidency as evidence of
We disagree with Ravindranathan. VCU was not
required to present evidence to demonstrate that Ravindranathan
was not a domiciliary of this Commonwealth. Rather, Code
? 23-7.4(B) requires that a matriculating student who has
entered an institution and is classified as an out-of-state
student rebut by clear and convincing evidence the presumption
that the student is in the Commonwealth for the purpose of
attending school and not as a bona fide domiciliary.
Even though Ravindranathan presented evidence
that she registered to vote in Virginia, paid Virginia income
taxes, registered her automobile in Virginia, and possessed a
Virginia driver’s license, the Residency Appeals Committee
concluded that she failed to present clear and sufficient
evidence of her intent to make Virginia her domicile. The
Committee stated: "The Committee’s interpretation of the
information presented is that you came to Virginia for
educational purposes and that those purposes are your primary
reason for remaining in Virginia at this time."
The circuit court correctly refused to reweigh
the evidence considered by the Residency Appeals Committee and,
as required by Code ? 23-7.4:3, the circuit court limited
its review to "whether the decision reached by the
institution could reasonably be said, on the basis of the record,
not to be arbitrary, capricious or otherwise contrary to the
law." Code ? 23-7.4:3. Upon review of the record, the
circuit court held that the Residency Appeals Committee’s
decision was not arbitrary because the facts that Ravindranathan
presented in support of her petition "could be considered
. . . auxiliary to fulfilling educational objectives or
are routinely performed by temporary residents of the
Commonwealth’ and therefore do not constitute a change in
domicile. Code ? 23-7.4."
On appeal, the sole issue that we may consider
is whether the circuit court was plainly wrong when it held that
the Residency Appeals Committee’s decision was not arbitrary,
capricious, or otherwise contrary to the law. Our review of the
record reveals that the facts upon which Ravindranathan relies to
support her purported Virginia domicile could also be deemed
auxiliary to fulfilling her educational objectives or are
routinely performed by temporary residents of this Commonwealth.
Thus, the Residency Appeals Committee’s decision was not
arbitrary or capricious, and the circuit court’s judgment upon
review of that decision was not plainly wrong. Accordingly, we
will affirm the judgment of the circuit court.