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A federal appeals court on Monday reversed a lower court and held in a divided opinion that students at Loyola University in Chicago can pursue breach of contract litigation in connection with the COVID-19-related cancellation of their in-person classes.
Students filed a putative class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Chicago against the university for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, seeking a refund of tuition and fees for the portion of the semester that took place remotely, according to the ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in Andrea Gociman et al. v. Loyola University of Chicago.
Full-time students who attend classes on campus paid $1,050-$1,383 per credit hour while online students paid $693 per credit hour, according to the lawsuit.
The district court granted the university’s motion to dismiss the complaint, holding the students’ claim for breach of contract failed because it was barred by the “educational malpractice” doctrine and that the students “fail to allege a specific contractual promise for in-person instruction.”
The majority opinion concluded that the students were not making educational malpractice claims because they did not challenge the quality of their remote education.
It also concluded they had sufficiently pleaded breach of contract.
“To begin, Loyola’s 2019-2020 catalog indicates that many courses will take place in-person and identifies specific rooms on campus. … Loyola’s online registration portal likewise supports a reasonable inference of in-person instruction,” it said in remanding the case for further proceedings.
The dissenting opinion stated the course catalog and online portal “indeed contain language suggestive of in-person instruction but nothing definite enough to amount to a contractual guarantee.”
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.
In March, in a ruling cited by the 7th Circuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned lower court rulings and reinstated litigation filed by George Washington University and American University students seeking tuition and fee refunds because of the institutions’ COVID-19-related moves to online classes.