Lawsuit against AU alleging ‘unfair’ tuition during online learning revived by Court of Appeals
The lawsuit alleges that the University violated an agreement when classes moved online in 2020
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit partially reversed the dismissal of a class-action lawsuit alleging American University failed to provide students with expected services when classes moved online following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A lower court previously dismissed the case, finding that the University did not violate any “express contractual promises,” according to Bloomberg Law. The plaintiffs appealed and the Court of Appeals revived the case on March 8, along with a similar suit against George Washington University.
Three AU students originally sued the University for refunds on a semester they say did not encompass the quality of education or services they paid for. The lawsuits allege that the students could have paid for cheaper online programs, rather than for an in-person educational experience they did not receive.
Plaintiffs “plausibly allege that the Universities breached implied-in-fact contracts for in-person education,” wrote the Court of Appeals. The implied contracts would also likely cover in-person services, such as sports center access, wrote the Court.
Roy Willey, the attorney for the plaintiffs, did not respond to a request for comment from The Eagle.
The Court said both Universities would likely have compelling arguments in their defense, but that, “because the Universities have not raised any such defense before this court, we leave the issue to the District Courts to resolve.”
The AU plaintiffs argued for the case’s revival, saying they paid thousands for an in-person experience they did not get in the spring 2020 semester, according to Law360. The students argued that they pay tuition in part for the experience of being on AU’s campus, the ability to participate in its clubs and services and to live in and take advantage of the district.
The appeal stated that the cases should be revived based on breach of contract in terms of tuition and fees, that online learning unjustly enriched the University and D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act claims. The lawsuits allege that the University violated the act by breaking an implied contract and the Appeals Court upheld this.
Both the AU and GW cases argue that in-person education and experiences are implied in students’ contracts with the universities.
“We are reviewing the ruling and will continue to defend our position,” Sandra Rodriguez, associate director of communications and media for AU, wrote in an email statement to The Eagle.