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Student Battles University Over Alleged Incomparable Education Experience & Unjust Enrichment During COVID-19 Pandemic (PA)

May 7, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we have already seen lawsuits filed by restaurant owners, gym members, cruise ship guests, and even students. Recently, Pennsylvania State University (“Penn State”) found itself embroiled in a lawsuit filed by one of its students in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. In <em><a href="">Thomson v. Penn State</a></em>, Tyler Thomson (“Plaintiff”) filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Penn State breached its contract by not reimbursing students for tuition and fees paid prior to the transition to online study. Plaintiff argues that he and other similarly situated class members have been deprived of an in-person educational experience and as a result, they should be refunded their pro rata share of tuition and other fees already paid for the Spring 2020 semester. He believes that Penn State has already demonstrated that an online educational system is incomparable to on-campus learning by charging a reduced rate to students who elect to pursue their degrees online. Plaintiff asserted two classes as part of this lawsuit. The Tuition Class consists of class members who paid Spring 2020 tuition but are unable to proceed with in-person, on-campus learning. The Fee Class consists of class members who paid fees for the Spring 2020 semester. Plaintiff is requesting injunctive and declaratory relief based on two grounds: (1) breach of contract and (2) unjust enrichment on behalf of both classes.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">For the breach of contract claim, the Tuition Class members assert that they entered an agreement with Penn State, in which they paid tuition in exchange for on-campus learning. The class allegedly suffered injury due to the university’s breach of said agreement. Relatedly, they allege that Penn State was unjustly enriched by failing to provide the programs expected by the students who paid tuition. The university allegedly benefitted at the class members’ expense. Nearly identical theories were articulated for the Fee class members. The bottom line is that Plaintiff thinks Penn should be held responsible for the money it kept despite on-campus closure.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">As COVID rages on, this issue presents itself to universities and students all over the world. Plaintiff acknowledges that Penn State had no other choice but to close due to the pandemic. However, this issue is not unique to the academic context. We are sure to see more breach of contract claims filed in the next few months and this will certainly change how agreements are structured. Until then, we will see a battle between entities who want to protect their clientele and staff from the dangers of an unknown illness versus consumers — even in the midst of a global crisis.</p>
Thanks to Gabrielle Outlaw for this post.  Please contact <a href="">Vincent Terrasi</a> with any questions or comments.


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