Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

District Court Grants Summary Judgment to Loyola-New Orleans in Lawsuit by Former 3L Displaced by Hurricane Katrina

BranchRoe v. Loyola University New Orleans, No. 07-1828 (E.D. LA, 11/26/07):

At the time that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, plaintiff, Brian Branch [right], was entering his final year as a law student at Loyola. ... Plaintiff relocated to Dallas and was able to attend classes at SMU law school as a visiting student displaced by Hurricane Katrina. He testified that he understood that his ability to attend classes without charge at another school was conditioned upon his payment of tuition and fees to Loyola. ...

Plaintiff took thirteen credit hours at SMU and received full credit for those courses towards his Loyola degree. Branch then returned to New Orleans for the Spring 2006 semester and graduated from Loyola, without delay due to the storm. He took, and passed, the bar exam and is now a practicing attorney in Metairie.

Branch filed a class-action suit against Loyola, first on the purported behalf of all law students, then on the purported behalf of all Loyola graduate and undergraduate students, asserting that because Loyola was unable to offer classes in the City of New Orleans for the Fall 2005 semester, he, and all other students, should have their tuition refunded to them. He asserted claims of breach of contract [and] unjust enrichment. ...

Breach of Contract. ... Plaintiff has pointed to no provision of the student bulletin or Handbook that would entitle him to a free semester of law school. Rather, by attending classes during the Fall 2005 semester at SMU, plaintiff received the benefit of the emergency policy made possible by Loyola. As such, plaintiff's breach of contract claim fails. ...

Unjust Enrichment. ... The defendant argues, and this Court agrees, that the plaintiff cannot recover for unjust enrichment. Plaintiff's testimony establishes that he is not able to show that all the elements to an unjust enrichment claim have been met. Because he admits that he received full credit for the courses he took at SMU toward his degree at Loyola and, by receiving this credit, he was able to graduate and sit for the bar, on time, something to which he ascribes value, he fails to show he was impoverished by having to pay for tuition.

Moreover, the undisputed facts establish that there is "no absence of justification or cause" for Loyola's retention of the tuition for the fall 2005 semester. But for the actions of Loyola in allowing its students to attend other schools and receive credit for Loyola for the courses they took, Loyola students would have fallen behind and been delayed in receiving their degrees from Loyola. Plaintiff understood that if he hadn't paid tuition to Loyola, he would have been required to pay SMU's tuition, which was more expensive than that of Loyola. In addition, the Court notes that if Loyola were required to reimburse plaintiff for the Fall 2005 tuition payments he made, plaintiff would be unjustly enriched as a result. Therefore, plaintiff's claim for unjust enrichment fails.

(Hat Tip: Eric Goldman.)

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