Justia Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
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The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in the case of a student, Brett Goldberg, against Pace University. Goldberg, a graduate student in performing arts, sued Pace for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and violation of New York General Business Law § 349, following the university's decision to move classes online and postpone the performance of his play and a class due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court granted Pace's motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that Goldberg failed to sufficiently allege a breach given the university's published Emergency Closings provision and failed to identify a sufficiently specific promise under New York law of in-person instruction. The court also found that Goldberg's unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and § 349 claims were either duplicative or failed for similar reasons. On appeal, the Second Circuit agreed with the lower court, holding that the university's postponement and move to an online format were permitted by the Emergency Closings provision, thus affirming the district court's judgment. View "Goldberg v. Pace University" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the trial court directing that while Plaintiff may pursue his claims against Ball State University based on its response to the COVID-19 pandemic on his on behalf, he may not pursue a class action on behalf of other students, holding that there was no error.Plaintiff, a university student, sued the University for breach of contract and unjust enrichment after the university switched to providing only online instruction for the 2020 spring semester, seeking to recover tuition and fees for in-person instruction and services allegedly promised by the university. Plaintiff sought to litigate his claims as a class action, but after he filed his action, Public Law No. 166-2021 was signed into law, prohibiting class action lawsuits against postsecondary educational institutions for contract and unjust enrichment claims arising from COVID-19. The trial court denied class certification based on this new law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court correctly concluded that the law was constitutional and precluded a class action in this case. View "Mellowitz v. Ball State University" on Justia Law

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In this action arising out of the curtailment of classes and services at the University of Rhode Island (URI) during the COVID-19 pandemic, the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing some of Plaintiffs' claims early in the litigation and granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant on the remaining claims, holding that the district court did not err.Plaintiffs, students who remained enrolled at URI during the pandemic, filed separate putative class actions against URI alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued that URI had breached its contract when it stopped providing in-person, on-campus instruction. The district court dismissed certain claims and then, following the completion of discovery, granted summary judgment on the remaining claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs failed to make out a genuine issue of material fact as to whether URI had either an express or implied contract to provide in-person services and activities. View "Burt v. Bd. of Trustees of University of R.I." on Justia Law

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Creighton Preparatory School expelled Plaintiff after he made lewd remarks about a teacher. Plaintiff sued Creighton under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 on the theory that the school had discriminated against him by failing to perform an “adequate and impartial investigation.” The district court granted Creighton’s motion to dismiss. It first dismissed the Title IX claim because Plaintiff had failed to “allege [that] his sex played any part in the disciplinary process at all.” Then, with the federal question gone, it declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claim.The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that Plaintiff does not allege that Creighton faced external pressure to punish male students, much less gave in by expelling him. The court reasoned that without an allegation of that kind, the complaint fails to plausibly allege the sort of “causal connection between the flawed outcome and gender bias” required to make an erroneous outcome theory work.Further, the court wrote that treating men and women differently can support an inference of sex discrimination, but it requires identifying a similarly situated member of the opposite sex who has been “treated more favorably.” For Plaintiff, he had to find “a female accused of sexual harassment” who received better treatment. There are no female students at Creighton, an all-boys school, let alone any who have faced sexual-misconduct allegations. The court explained that to the extent that Plaintiff argues that believing them over him raises an inference of discrimination, there is nothing alleged that the school did so because of his sex. View "Elijah Wells v. Creighton Preparatory School" on Justia Law

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Following an investigation, Rollins determined that Plaintiff- John Doe violated its sexual misconduct policy. Doe was able to graduate and receive his undergraduate degree but was not allowed to participate in commencement/graduation ceremonies. Rollins imposed a sanction of dismissal, resulting in permanent separation of Doe without the opportunity for readmission; privilege restrictions, including a prohibition on participating in alumni reunion events on or off campus; and a contact restriction as to Roe. Doe sued Rollins in federal court, asserting two claims under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. Section 1681—one for selective enforcement and one for erroneous outcome—and a third claim under Florida law for breach of contract. Following discovery, the district court excluded the opinions proffered by Doe’s expert as to Rollins’ purported gender bias. Then, on cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court (a) entered summary judgment in favor of Rollins on the Title IX claims and (b) entered partial summary judgment in favor of Doe on the breach of contract claim.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in precluding Doe’s expert from presenting opinions about Rollins’ purported gender bias and that it correctly granted summary judgment in favor of Rollins on Doe’s two Title IX claims. On the breach of contract claim, the court wrote that it cannot review Doe’s challenge to the district court’s partial denial of summary judgment because materiality is not a purely legal issue under Florida law and was later resolved by the jury. View "John Doe v. Rollins College" on Justia Law

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The universities, Pitt and Temple, offer traditional, on-campus educational programs. Temple also offers fully online distance-learning programs, which are separately advertised and priced. Students who enrolled in the Universities’ traditional on-campus programs for the Spring 2020 semester were required to pay tuition and mandatory fees and to sign a Financial Responsibility Agreement (FRA). On March 11, 2020, then-Governor Wolf ordered a temporary closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses, citing the rising number of COVID-19 cases. The Universities closed campus buildings, canceled all on-campus student events, announced that classes would be conducted online for the remainder of the semester, and urged students not to return to campus housing. Neither university offered any reduction in tuition or mandatory fees. Temple issued pro-rata housing and dining refunds. Pitt did so only for students who moved out by April 3, 2020.Students sued for breach of contract, or, alternatively, unjust enrichment, citing the Universities’ “website[s], academic catalogs, student handbooks, marketing materials, and other circulars, bulletins, and publications,” which described the benefits of campus life, and the reduced pricing for online courses.The Third Circuit reversed, in part, the dismissals of both suits. There is no express contract precluding the implied contract or unjust enrichment claims. The FRAs function as promissory notes, not integrated contracts. The students adequately pleaded their implied contract claims as to tuition in exchange for in-person education, Pitt’s mandatory fees, and Temple’s university services fee—but not as to Pitt’s housing and dining fees. The students also adequately pleaded unjust enrichment. View "Hickey v. University of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against The University of Miami (Miami), alleging the school should refund a portion of the payments that she made for the Spring 2020 semester since she did not receive the expected benefit of in-person learning. Plaintiff marshaled a number of claims, including breach of express contract, breach of implied contract, and unjust enrichment. Miami filed a motion for summary judgment on each of Plaintiff’s claims, which the district court granted in full.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it is entirely valid for Plaintiff to take the position that Miami should have based its prorated refunds on a different day than it did. The problem, however, is that Plaintiff fails to present “more than a scintilla” of evidence to support her contention that Miami should have refunded 48% of the fees for the Spring 2020 semester. The court reasoned that an announcement extending spring break by itself does not support the contention that all fee-based facilities and services were suddenly unavailable to students such that Miami’s refund was inadequate. And while Plaintiff offers a report from an unsworn economist’s input as evidence, Plaintiff cannot rely on that report to show there is a genuine issue of material fact about this point. Unsworn reports may not be taken into account by a district court when it rules on a motion for summary judgment. View "Adelaide Dixon v. University of Miami" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, on behalf of a putative class of students, sued Southern Methodist University (“SMU”) for refusing to refund tuition and fees after the university switched to remote instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim.   The Fifth Circuit reversed that decision in light of King v. Baylor University, 46 F.4th 344 (5th Cir. 2022), which was issued after the district court’s ruling and which teaches that Hogan adequately pled a breach-of-contract claim. Alternatively, the district court held that Texas’s Pandemic Liability Protection Act (“PLPA”) retroactively bars Plaintiff’s claim for monetary relief and is not unconstitutionally retroactive under the Texas Constitution. That latter ruling raises a determinative-but-unsettled question of state constitutional law, which the court certified to the Texas Supreme Court: Does the application of the Pandemic Liability Protection Act to Plaintiff’s breach-of-contract claim violate the retroactivity clause in article I, section 16 of the Texas Constitution? View "Hogan v. Southern Methodist Univ" on Justia Law

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McKendree University, like other Illinois colleges, closed its campus and switched to remote instruction in March 2020 due to the risks of COVID-19. McKendree already ran an online degree program in addition to its on-campus degree program. McKendree did not refund its in-person students for any portion of their tuition or fees. The plaintiffs. enrolled in McKendree’s on-campus program at the time of the shutdown, sued for breach of contract and unjust enrichment.The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the suit, noting its recent precedent holding that certain evidence—including a university’s course catalogs, class registration system, and pre-pandemic practices—can suffice under Illinois law to allege the existence of an implied contract between a university and its students for in-person instruction and extracurricular activities. The complaint in this case is “enough—if barely—to state a claim at the pleading stage.” Under Illinois law, the relationship between students and universities is contractual and the parties’ obligations under the contract are “inferred from the facts and conduct of the parties, rather than from an oral or written agreement.” View "Delisle v. McKendree University" on Justia Law

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In this putative class action where Students sought a refund of money from the University of Kentucky after the University switched all on-campus classes to an online format for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's ruling that governmental immunity was waived and that a breach of contract claim may proceed for adjudication on the merits, holding that the Student Financial Obligation and accompanying documents were a written contract under Ky. Rev. Stat. 45A.245(1) such that governmental immunity was waived and the underlying breach of contract claims may proceed. View "University of Ky. v. Regard" on Justia Law