In a ruling comparable to at least two other federal appeals court decisions, a federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a putative class-action lawsuit filed by a university student who sought reimbursement for tuition stemming from her school’s transition to Covid-19-related online courses.
Allison King signed a “financial responsibility agreement” to secure her enrollment at Waco, Texas-based Baylor University for the spring of 2020, paying $21,240 in tuition plus other fees, according to the ruling by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Allison King v. Baylor University.
Classes moved online beginning in March 2020 due to the pandemic, and Baylor decided not to provide refunds for tuition as well as for other fees, aside from prorated meal plans, the ruling said.
King filed suit against the university in June 2020 in U.S. District Court in Waco, alleging breach of contract, or unjust enrichment, and seeking refunds of student fees and prorated tuition.
The district court dismissed the case. A three-judge panel of the appeals court reinstated Ms. King̵7;s breach of contract claim. The financial agreement “is an enforceable contract but the district court did not consider whether the contractual term “educational services” in the agreement is ambiguous, it said. “The fact that a contract is enforceable does not mean that its terms are unambiguous.”
The lower court also “failed to meaningfully construe ‘educational services’ in light of the circumstances surrounding FRA’s formation,” the ruling said. It upheld the dismissal of Ms. King’s unjust enrichment claim.
A consensus opinion says that Ms. King “alleges a direct breach of contract claim: I paid for something, you changed the deal to give me something worth less, and I want some money back. Many courts around the country facing similar allegations have refused to dismiss them.”
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.
In July, a federal appeals court 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.
And in March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned lower court rulings and reinstated lawsuits filed by George Washington University and American University students seeking refunds of tuition and fees due to the institutions’ COVID-19-related transitions to online courses.