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A federal appeals court on Monday reversed a lower court and held that a higher education institute’s student may be entitled to a partial tuition reimbursement in connection with his school’s shutdown of in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Omar Hernandez, a student at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which has campuses in Chicago and Wheaton, Illinois, who had paid tuition for the spring 2020 semester, sued the university, contending he had an express or implied contract with it that promised to provide in-person instruction services and resources, which it had breached, according to the ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in Omar Hernandez v. Illinois Institute of Technology.
He also charged the institution with unjust enrichment in his putative class action.
Mr. Hernandez sued the institution in U.S. District Court in Chicago, which ruled in the university’s favor.
In reinstating the lawsuit, a three-judge appeals court panel referred to the appeals court’s 2022 ruling in Gociman v. Loyola University of Chicago, which it said involved similar claims, stating there were no “meaningful distinctions” between the two lawsuits.
In Gociman, while the appeals court rejected the argument there was an express contract between Loyola and the students, “we held that the plaintiff students adequately stated claims for breach of an implied contract under Illinois law, and that their claims were not educational malpractice complaints in disguise,” it said, in reinstating the lawsuit.
A concurring opinion said the judge is joining the opinion “not because I think Gociman was correctly decided,” but based on the recognition it is the controlling precedent.
“I urge the Illinois courts – the final arbiters of Illinois law – to take up and decide this issue as quickly as the opportunity affords,” it states.
Other appeals courts have also ruled in students’ favor in similar cases.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.