Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

WSJ: Recent Court Ruling In Covid-19 Tuition Refund Case Could Send Shock Waves To Universities Throughout The Country

Wall Street Journal, Colleges, Parents Fight in Court Over Tuition Charged During Pandemic Closures:

Colleges and universities faced a barrage of lawsuits in the peak pandemic days of 2020 after schools shut down their campuses and moved classes online while charging students their usual tuition rates.

Two years later, the Covid-19 tuition wars are building toward a decisive phase.

A number of courts have issued rulings that provided a boost to students and parents seeking refunds, including last week in a case against a small private university in California. That decision followed a recent federal appeals court ruling that allowed claims to proceed against Loyola University Chicago. But those rulings stand in tension with other decisions for schools that said students don’t have valid claims. Pending cases from higher-level courts could bring more clarity.

The cases could turn on what specific promises schools made to students about in-person education—and whether students suffered any harm in the switch to remote classes. ...

One significant recent development came in a lawsuit against University of La Verne, a private institution in California. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Mark C. Scarsi granted a summary judgment motion in favor of plaintiffs consisting of undergraduates who paid tuition ($22,350 a semester) and fees at La Verne’s main campus in the spring 2020 term.

Judge Scarsi, a President Donald Trump appointee, said University of La Verne entered into an implied contract with students that could be inferred from promotional materials sent to admitted students. ... The judge said that although shutdown orders made it impossible for La Verne to honor its obligations, it would be unjust for the university “to retain the monetary benefits specific to in-person classes.” ...

A coming jury trial will determine restitutionary damages. “This could send shock waves to universities throughout the country, especially if the jury comes back with a substantial number,” said Jeffrey K. Brown of Leeds Brown Law PC, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

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