A federal appeals court on Monday reversed a lower court, ruling in a split opinion that students at Loyola University in Chicago can pursue breach-of-contract lawsuits related to the COVID-19-related cancellations of their in-person classes.
Students filed a putative class action 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 i Andrea Gociman et al. v. Loyola University of Chicago.
Full-time students taking 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 university̵7;s motion to dismiss the complaint, holding that the students’ breach of contract claim failed because it was barred by the doctrine of “educational malpractice” and that the students “fail to allege a specific contractual promise of personal instruction.”
The majority opinion concluded that the students did not claim educational malpractice because they did not challenge the quality of their distance education.
It also concluded that they had sufficiently pleaded breach of contract.
“To begin with, 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 also supports a reasonable inference of in-person instruction,” it said in remanding the case for further proceedings.
The dissenting opinion stated that the course catalog and online portal “do contain language suggesting in-person instruction but nothing definite enough to amount to a contractual warranty.”
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 decisions and reinstated lawsuits brought by George Washington University and American University students seeking refunds of tuition and fees due to the institutions’ covid-19-related moves to online classes.