Court reinstates lawsuit seeking reimbursement of COVID-related tuition

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In a decision comparable to at least two other federal appeals court rulings, a federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a putative class action lawsuit filed by a college student seeking tuition reimbursement stemming from her school’s switch to online courses related to COVID-19.

Allison King signed a ‘financial responsibility agreement’ to secure her enrollment at Waco, Texas-based Baylor University for spring 2020, paying $21,240 in tuition plus other fees, according to the ruling. of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Allison King v. Baylor University.

Classes went live from March 2020 due to the pandemic, and Baylor has decided not to issue any refunds for tuition and other fees, except for meal plans at pro rata, according to the decision.

Ms. King filed suit against the university in June 2020 in the U.S. District Court in Waco, charging breach of contract or unjust enrichment, and seeking tuition reimbursement and tuition reimbursement to the pro rata.

The district court dismissed the case. A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal reinstated Ms King’s breach of contract claim. The financial agreement “is an enforceable contract, but the district court did not consider whether the contractual ‘educational services’ clause in the contract was ambiguous,” he said. “That a contract is enforceable does not mean that its terms are unambiguous.”

The trial court also “did not meaningfully interpret ‘educational services’ in light of the circumstances surrounding the formation of the FRA,” the ruling said. She upheld the dismissal of Ms. King’s claim for unjust enrichment.

A concurring opinion states that Ms King “alleges a simple breach of contract claim: I paid something, you changed the deal to give me something worth less, and I want some money. Many courts around the country faced with similar allegations have refused to dismiss them. »

Baylor attorney Russell H. Falconer, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, released a statement that read in part, “We are pleased that the Fifth Circuit has dismissed significant portions of plaintiff’s case and acknowledged that Baylor has several potentially viable defenses which the court ruling did not address.

“We look forward to presenting these defenses in the District Court and are confident that the District Court will once again dismiss the claims in this lawsuit.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not respond to requests for comment.

In July, a federal appeals court reversed a lower court and found in a split opinion that Loyola University Chicago students can sue for breach of contract in connection with the COVID-related cancellation. -19 of their in-person classes.

And in March, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed lower court rulings and reinstated lawsuits filed by George Washington University and American University students seeking tuition reimbursement. tuition and fees due to COVID-19 related institutional moves to online courses.

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