Class Actions Follow Universities’ Moves to Online Learning
After switching to online learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and sending students home, colleges and universities are beginning to face class action lawsuits seeking refunds of tuition, housing costs, meal plans, and fees. One such lawsuit is Church v. Purdue University, No. 4:20-CV-0025, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.
The lawsuit asserts contract and unjust enrichment claims for three general classes, seeking partial reimbursement for: (1) tuition; (2) housing; and (3) meals and fees. Among the many important issues will be whether the damages are so individualized that they are not susceptible to class-wide proof. If so, they would predominate over common, class-wide issues and prevent class certification. The Church complaint, for example, acknowledges that the diminished value may vary for each student. It alleges that academic performance drops from online learning and the adverse effects hit lower ranked students progressively more harshly. Also, the named plaintiff is an engineering senior who is missing out on his senior project of building an airplane. Many other students will have similar stories, but they each will be unique. These and other problems will be a struggle for plaintiffs as they seek to find a class-wide damages model for some or all of the sub-classes they seek to represent.
These suits also may entail issues arising from recent federal legislation enacted to combat the economic fallout from COVID-19, as well as issues regarding financial aid.
These damage issues will be hotly litigated as these cases face motions to dismiss and oppositions to class certification.