New York University (NYU) won a battle but still has more fighting to do after a federal judge rejected a motion to dismiss a proposed class action against the institution.
Law360 reports that U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon has spared New York University (NYU) from tuition-related claims surrounding COVID-19 because the plaintiff could not show that the school had promised in-person classes during the pandemic. However, the federal judge refused to cut claims connected to fees students paid to access amenities when the school shuttered its campus due to COVID-19.
NYU argued that government shutdown orders precluded the school from giving students access to campus facilities. Judge McMahon ruled the argument was not enough to warrant dismissal, stating the predicament “does not necessarily excuse the university from its obligation to repay plaintiff and other members of the fees class who gave the university money in exchange for the services that it became impossible to provide.”
Breaking Down the Lawsuit and Judge McMahon’s Order
Across the country, coronavirus lawsuits are being filed by students and their parents who demand reimbursement for tuition, campus fees, meal plans, and room and board—all parts of the “college product” they paid for, but which were either denied or diminished during the pandemic.
The Southern District of New York has seen six complaints filed against NYU for damages related to the pandemic shutdown. Although the plaintiffs are not arguing that the university made a bad decision to close the campus, claimants do question administrators’ charging full tuition and fees when students would not be receiving the “product” they purchased.
Plaintiffs are bringing claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and violations of the New York Business Laws, according to Law360.
The judge disagreed that NYU had violated New York Business Laws because such a violation would require the element of deception. In other words, NYU would have had to have known at the start of the semester that it would be shutting down the campus and switching to online learning.
These claims were tossed out along with the tuition claims. Judge McMahon explained that the plaintiff, former NYU graduate student Nelcy Mabel Garci De Leon, got the product that her tuition paid for—credits toward her degree.
This leaves NYU to battle claims of unjust enrichment and breach of contract connected to fees. The school’s attorneys called on the educational malpractice doctrine, which prevents a court’s interference with academic decisions. However, Judge McMahon pointed out the doctrine’s irrelevance in this case because campus fees have nothing to do with academic decisions.
NYU also argued for dismissal because De Leon did not claim the institution had acted in bad faith. Again, Judge McMahon shut down the argument, stating that breach of contract does not require the element of bad faith.