Lawsuits Regarding COVID-19 University Closure May Continue
NEWARK, Del. – A federal judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss two lawsuits brought against the University of Delaware by current and former students who claim they were entitled to reimbursements for services they did not receive when officials closed the campus in the spring last due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Judge Stephanos Bibas has ruled that while students may not be entitled to tuition reimbursement, they can at least claim reimbursement for student fees that cover services they did not receive. .
“At a minimum, the fee claims will survive and proceed to the discovery here,” he said.
The plaintiffs sued the school for breach of contract and unjust enrichment last year after UD officials stopped offering in-person classes and closed campus facilities. The lawsuits, which will now be consolidated, are alleged class actions seeking reimbursement on behalf of all students who paid for the spring 2020 semester.
University attorneys filed motions to dismiss the lawsuits, arguing that the students failed to identify a specific contract term that was violated and that the school had the right to change its policies, fees and other fees without notice. .
“They have to emphasize a particular promise of in-person education. I haven’t seen one here,” James Taylor, an attorney representing the university, said Tuesday in a virtual court hearing.
Taylor also noted that the University Catalog makes it clear that students are required to pay tuition and fees when they enroll.
“It’s a contract and an agreement.… Once you register, the tuition and fees are due in full,” he said.
Roy Willey IV, lawyer for a group of plaintiffs, argued that the university should not be allowed to keep money for services it offered but did not provide.
“They promised one thing and didn’t deliver it,” he said.
Even if the university can show that it did not violate an express contractual provision, plaintiffs are still entitled to refunds, Willey added.
“We’re not chasing for a specific performance. We’re not trying to get them to do something they didn’t do or didn’t want to do,” Willey explained. “All we’re saying is, based on what we’ve paid and what you’ve actually done, we’re entitled to a reasonable, fair, and pro-rated refund.”
Willey noted that students could not go to the gymnasium, student health and counseling center or other campus facilities, or participate in activities covered by the fees they paid. He also said that students were forced into virtual learning after specifically paying tuition fees to take classes on campus.
“The University of Delaware, unlike some schools, also offers online training at a significantly lower cost,” Willey noted. “… So it’s implausible, it’s frankly surprising to hear a lawyer from the University of Delaware come to court and say,” We never intended to promise our students a campus education “.”
Taylor, the attorney for the university, argued that there is nothing on the school’s website or promotional material that suggests students could expect to take classes in person in the face of to a pandemic.
Pushing away Taylor, the judge noted that, if there is an implied promise, rather than an express guarantee, of what students can expect, “there may well be a restitution problem here.”
“Tuition was definitely paid out of on-campus costs. You were charging a lot less for a fully distance-based degree when you offered it,” Bibas noted. “… You keep the money for something you haven’t provided and you haven’t spent the money to provide.”
Ultimately, however, Bibas indicated that he did not think the contractual terms regarding the tuition were express enough to be enforceable.
“I think the form of any implied understanding is a more interesting and closer question,” the judge said. “My understanding is that the cost promises appear to be specific enough to be enforceable, so at least the cost portion of the lawsuit will survive.”
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