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Law360 (May 25, 2021, 4:11 p.m. EDT) – Stevens Institute of Technology failed to clear a proposed class action lawsuit following its move to fully virtual classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, featuring a New Jersey A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that a student cannot pursue tuition reimbursement claims, but can sue the school for failing to reimburse tuition fees.
In deciding Stevens’ offer to dismiss plaintiff Leah Mitelberg’s complaint, U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton said the cybersecurity student’s breach of contract and unjust enrichment requests could go moving forward on fees she paid for what she believed to be a person-to-person learning experience at Hoboken, New Jersey, educational institution.
Addressing the claim for unjust enrichment, Judge Wigenton stated that Mitelberg “plausibly alleges that the defendant received the benefit of her fee payments and that withholding these payments would be unfair because the defendant did not rendering services or activities in person from March 11, 2020 to the semester. finish. “
The judge came to a similar conclusion when analyzing the breach of contract claim.
Mitelberg “plausibly alleged” that there was “a valid contract for access to general student services and activities”, that Stevens “breached his contractual obligations by not providing access to those services and activities” and that “There is” a causal link between the defendant. violation and the plaintiff’s damages, “the judge said.
“Unlike the complainant’s request for reimbursement of tuition fees, her general service fees and student activity fees do not necessarily include her studies; rather, they plausibly facilitate her access to the facilities and resources of the university, ”Judge Wigenton said.
But Mitelberg cannot sue for breach of contract and unwarranted enrichment following Stevens’ decision to keep his tuition fees after the transition to distance learning, the judge said.
This is in part because of the “express reservation of rights” clause, or ROR, in Stevens’ academic catalog for the 2019-2020 school year, according to the judge.
The provision states that the school “‘reserves the right to change the information, regulations, requirements, procedures and policies advertised in th[e] catalog including, but not limited to: admission requirements; diploma or diplomas; Planning; credit or course content; fresh; and calendars ”, wrote the judge in her opinion.
“Because the defendant expressly retained the right to change the requirements and procedures, its transition to virtual training during the spring semester of 2020 falls within its jurisdiction under the MMR,” said Judge Wigenton.
Judge Wigenton also concluded that Stevens “had not deviated from his responsibility to act in good faith and deal fairly with his students amid the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic,” noting that school had passed. distance education to comply with government orders to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“These reasons, coupled with the absence of allegations that the defendant could have used another safe learning option, establish that the physical closure was not only fair, but conducted in good faith for the health and safety of the people. students, faculty and staff of the defendant, “the judge said.
Mitelberg lawsuit is one of many class actions on offer launched against colleges and universities in Garden State and across the country following the end of in-person classes by institutions due to the pandemic in the spring 2020 semester. Her father previously filed a nearly identical complaint which was later dismissed for lack of quality.
As in a number of similar cases, Mitelberg said that she and other students did not have the in-person experiences they paid for and were entitled to a refund of the pro-rata share of the tuition and charges for services Stevens did not provide.
Mitelberg claimed to have paid approximately $ 31,671 in tuition and fees for the 2020 spring semester, including a general service fee of $ 710 and an activity fee of $ 230. Stevens provided a partial refund of the accommodation costs, but the school retained all tuition and fees, according to his complaint.
While Judge Wigenton said Mitelberg could pursue his claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment in connection with his fees, the judge dismissed his claims for conversion and money had and received.
The judge said the tuition conversion request is denied because that count “just repeats” Mitelberg’s request for breach of contract. It also concluded that “neither in-person education nor reimbursement of tuition / fees fall within the definition of ‘movable property’ covered by the conversion offense”.
The money that had been claimed and received for Mitelberg’s tuition fees cannot survive since the required elements “reflect unjustified enrichment”, according to the judge. Regarding his fees, this request is “duplicative” of his request for unjust enrichment and must therefore be rejected, said the judge.
Lawyers for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Mitelberg is represented by Philip L. Fraietta and Alec M. Leslie of Bursor & Fisher PA.
Stevens is portrayed by Angelo A. Stio III and Michael E. Baughman of Troutman Pepper.
The case is Leah Mitelberg v. Stevens Institute of Technology, Case Number 2: 21-cv-01043, in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.
– Edited by Andrew Cohen.
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