Williams & Connolly, working with Brown's legal team, has secured a summary judgment victory on behalf of Brown University in one of several dozen putative class actions filed across the country against colleges and universities in connection with the transition to remote and online classes when the Covid-19 pandemic arose during the Spring 2020 semester. Filing claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and conversion, plaintiffs sought refunds of tuition and other fees on the basis that online classes and services provided during the pandemic were less valuable than “normal” college life.
In March 2021, the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island granted Brown’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ breach of contract claims regarding tuition refunds, holding that plaintiffs failed to “identify any contractual terms that obligate [Brown] to provide in person, on campus instruction” and recognizing that Brown “explicitly reserved the right to unilaterally alter the administration of their academic offerings.” Thus, the court concluded that it “cannot possibly read an obligation for in-person education, let alone during a global pandemic, into the university’s contracts with students.” The court also dismissed all of plaintiffs’ tort claims, but the litigation proceeded with respect to plaintiffs’ claims seeking a refund of other fees, including room and board, activity, and health services fees.
On March 22, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island granted summary judgment in favor of Brown on all remaining claims, holding that there was no dispute of material fact that Brown met its contractual obligations to the plaintiffs. This decision represents a total victory in favor of Brown and will serve as important precedent for the dozens of similar claims filed across the country against other colleges and universities in the wake of the pandemic.
The team representing Brown University included Amanda MacDonald, Lane Heard, and Sam Ford.