Victoria Steinberg and Rebecca O’Brien recently persuaded a federal judge to dismiss a tuition refund lawsuit against Harvard University after the school in spring 2020 closed the campus and moved to online course instruction due to COVID-19.
U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani found that the students had no reasonable expectation that Harvard would continue to provide in-person instruction during a pandemic.
The judge concluded that while various university promotional materials highlighted the benefits of campus life and in-person instruction, the students failed to point to any specific terms promising in-person instruction. This proved fatal to the putative class action alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment.
The plaintiffs “have provided virtually no direct language from the promotional and other materials, and … the Amended Complaint fails to plausibly allege facts suggesting that Harvard would reasonably expect students to understand from such material that Harvard had promised to provide in-person instruction, even where, during a global pandemic, the Governor and public health officials dictated otherwise,” Judge Talwani wrote in her ruling.
She has given the plaintiffs two weeks to file a motion for leave to amend their complaint, on narrow contract claims only.
This is the second win for the firm in defeating COVID-19 tuition reimbursement claims, recently obtaining summary judgment on behalf of Northeastern University dismissing two putative class actions filed by students.