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Suits by UD students seeking refunds for online classes during pandemic can proceed

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Sophia Schmidt
/
Delaware Public Media

Two suits against the University of Delaware over its virtual instruction during the pandemic can move forward. 

The suits by several UD students and parents seek partial tuition refunds for the courses UD taught online instead of in-person because of the coronavirus pandemic during spring 2020. On Friday, a federal judge largely rejected UD’s effort to get the suits tossed out. 

U.S. District Court judge Stephanos Bibas wrote in an opinion that the school may have implied a promise to provide in-person education—which it broke by going online in March 2020.

“True, the school never promised them expressly,” he wrote. “But promises need not be express to be enforceable.”

Bibas added that the school should not be “unjustly enriched” by the move, so it may need to return any money it saved. The opinion doesn’t rule in favor of the students’ claims, but simply allows most of them to proceed. Bibas did toss out the plaintiffs’ claim of conversion and their request for punitive damages.

“Obviously we were very pleased with Judge Bibas’ decision,” said Roy Willey IV, a lawyer with the Anastopoulo Law Firm. The South Carolina-based personal injury law firm is representing Hannah Russo, one of the students. 

Willey says the case is simple. 

“Our clients are seeking a fair and reasonable prorated refund which represents the difference between the tuition and fees that they paid in full at the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester for the in-person, on-campus educational experience and what they actually received, which was less than that,” he said. 

UD did offer prorated refunds for dining and housing fees. 

The parties must submit scheduling orders by August 27 to move forward with the case. 

“[Then] we will commence with discovery, which will include getting discovery from the University on its financials, on what exactly it provided for the second part of the Spring 2020 semester,” Willey said. 

The plaintiffs are also seeking class action status. 

The University declined to comment on the pending litigation.

 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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