July 21, 2021 – No Promises Made: COVID-19 Tuition Refund Suit Dismissed
A proposed class action that came to include the plaintiff in the case detailed on this page has been dismissed, with the judge finding the University of Pittsburgh did not breach any contract with its response to the COVID-19 pandemic during the Spring 2020 semester.
The case detailed on this page was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice on August 25, 2020 by the plaintiff, who was subsequently added to the suit that was tossed by U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV on April 27, 2021. In a 13-page memo, Judge Stickman said he would grant Pitt’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ claims failed to identify “any specific contractual promise that the University allegedly breached with respect to in-person instruction, tuition, fees, or any other costs.”
“Although the University’s website, promotional materials and other documents and publications reflect the myriad of opportunities students can take advantage of in ordinary times through their on-campus experience, these materials do not constitute identifiable and specific promises and are inadequate in the eyes of the Court to support a breach of contract, even one implied in fact.”
Judge Stickman rounded up the memo by stating that although the court is sympathetic to students and understands that they received a collegiate experience drastically different than what they anticipated, not every situation is actionable, and a court’s analysis “must be based solely on the law” governing the allegations.
A University of Pittsburgh student has filed at least the second proposed class action against the school over its alleged failure to issue tuition and fee refunds for the Spring 2020 semester cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Echoing a case filed in early May, the 30-page lawsuit claims the school’s mid-March decision to transition to online classes and close down its campus deprived students of the benefits of on-campus enrollment, access to campus facilities, student activities, and other services for which they paid tuition and fees.
Despite failing to provide the expected in-person educational experience, the University of Pittsburgh “has refused and continues to refuse to offer any refund whatsoever with respect to the tuition that has already been paid,” according to the case. Further, any reimbursement that may have been provided by the school has been “inadequate and/or arbitrary” and falls short of fully compensating tuition and fee payers, the suit claims.
The plaintiff, a full-time undergraduate, alleges she “specifically chose the on-campus program” at the University of Pittsburgh, which the case notes is marketed separately from the school’s online programs, with the expectation of receiving “benefits and services above and beyond basic academic instruction.”
Among the services promised by the defendant, according to the complaint, were face-to-face interaction with faculty and peers; access to campus facilities such as libraries, computer labs, study rooms, and laboratories; student governance and unions; extra-curricular activities and clubs; exposure to diverse community members; social development and independence; hands-on learning; and networking and mentorship opportunities.
Instead, the case says, students were forced to leave campus after the University of Pittsburgh announced on March 11 that classes would be held online starting March 23. Shortly thereafter, many on-campus facilities were closed, and students were therefore deprived of the in-person experience for which they paid tuition and fees for roughly 40 percent of the Spring semester, the suit asserts.
The lawsuit adds that the plaintiff and other students were charged mandatory fees intended to cover access to student health facilities and recreation facilities, maintenance of the university’s computer systems and facilities, and funding for transportation services—benefits the case relays were no longer available after March.
“As a result of the actions and announcements of Defendant during the Spring 2020 term, Plaintiff and members of the Fees Class (defined below) no longer had the benefit of the services for which these fees were paid,” the complaint states.
The case shares that the University of Pittsburgh has been allocated more than $21 million in federal funds under the CARES Act, at least half of which must be used to provide emergency financial aid grants to students “for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19.”
The lawsuit proposes to cover the following two classes:
“All people who paid tuition for or on behalf of students enrolled in classes at University for the Spring 2020 semester but were denied live, in-person instruction and forced to use online distance learning platforms for the latter portion of that semester”; and
“All people who paid fees for or on behalf of students enrolled in classes at the University.”
The complaint can be found below.
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.