Education Law

DC Circuit revives 2 suits seeking tuition and fee cuts because of remote learning

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A federal appeals court ruled 2-0 Tuesday that students at two universities can pursue lawsuits seeking tuition reductions and fee refunds because of the switch to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit revived the students’ would-be class actions against American University and George Washington University. U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had heard oral arguments in the case but did not participate in the March 8 opinion., Politico, the Washington Post and Bloomberg Law had coverage, while How Appealing noted the decision and news stories.

According to, the D.C. Circuit is the first federal appeals court to rule in a tuition reimbursement suit.

The D.C. Circuit agreed with a lower court that the universities could not be sued for breach of express contracts promising in-person education. But the plaintiffs plausibly alleged that the universities breached implied-in-fact contracts for in-person education and for some on-campus activities and services, the appeals court said.

The court also allowed a consumer protection claim against American University and said plaintiffs in both cases could raise unjust enrichment claims as an alternative to the contract claims.

“The district courts must first determine the contours of any promises governing in-person educational instruction and activities, the universities’ duties to perform any such promises, and the universities’ rights (if any) to retain already-paid tuition and fees even if on-campus instruction were canceled,” the appeals court said. “After these matters have been resolved, plaintiffs may then be in a position to pursue their claims for unjust enrichment.”

Judge Harry Edwards wrote the opinion, which was joined by Judge Patricia Millett.

The cases are Qureshi v. American University and Shaffer v. George Washington University.

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