In September 1986 L.R. brought an action for damages against the University of Messina and A.B., claiming that they were jointly and severally liable for the erroneous information given by the latter, who an was employee of the Secretariat of the Faculty of Medicine.
The plaintiff claimed that, after having studied medicine at the University of Messina until 1974/75 and having taken nine exams, he had gone in March 1983 to the Faculty Secretariat with a view to knowing his situation ahead of re-enrolling at the University. A.B. had reassured him that he had a year’s time to take at least one exam and pay the necessary fees.
When, however, he went back to the Secretariat in July 1984 with the receipts of payment of the said fees for the purpose of re-enrolling, he was told that he was now time-barred from re-enrolling under article 14 of Consolidtaed Law No. 1592 of 1933, on account of not having taken any examination for eight years.
He claimed that A.B. had admitted to having made a mistake.
Whereas the court of first instance found in favor of the plaintiff, the Court of Appeal found in favor of the defendant, overturning the judgment of first instance on the grounds that the only information that can oblige and bind the University (since it was an Italian public authority) is information provided in writing.
Furthermore, the Appeal judges found that there was no proof of the fact that the A.B. had been given erroneous information about the date of the last examination (which was relevant for calculating the eight-year period following which the plaintiff could no longer re-enroll).
The Supreme Court, with its judgment no. 8097/13, held, however, that the testimonial evidence given on the facts alleged by the plaintiff was satisfactory and rejected the Court of Appeal’s finding that the form in which information must be given by an Italian public authority must be in writing.
The Supreme Court Judges held that the necessity of communicating with written documents only concerns contractual obligations undertaken by public authorities, but does not concern torts committed by such public authority, which can consist in acts or omissions of any nature whatsoever. In the case at hand, the error of the employee in question consisted in giving incorrect information in relation to the records which were in his possession. There is no legal provision requiring public authorities to only provide information in writing, especially where – as in the case at hand – such information was given at the counter of a faculty office.