Temple Urges Judge To Ax Virus Tuition Refund Suit

By Matt Fair
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Law360 (July 15, 2020, 6:49 PM EDT) -- Temple University told a Pennsylvania federal judge on Wednesday that it had made no promise to provide in-person learning to a student who launched a would-be class action in May seeking tuition refunds after the school moved its classes online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Philadelphia-based university urged the judge to throw out the case because there was no contractual provision between students and the school requiring that it provide in-classroom instruction as opposed to the online-only classes that were ordered as the coronavirus first took hold in the region in March.

"Though the pandemic and the daunting challenges it has created are unprecedented, there is ample legal precedent demonstrating that plaintiff's claims are deficient as a matter of law," the school said. "Here, the complaint does not, and indeed cannot, attach or even quote from the contract allegedly promising exclusively in-person, classroom instruction for a simple reason: no such contract exists."

Undergraduate student Brooke Ryan filed suit in May seeking a prorated refund of tuition and other fees that she and other undergraduate and graduate students at Temple paid before the school shifted to an online-only model thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She claims in her lawsuit that the value of online-only instruction was appreciably lower than that of the normal in-person instruction that she and other students expected when they paid their tuition, and asked a judge to order the school to pay her and other members of the would-be class the difference.

But Temple argued in a motion to dismiss Wednesday that Ryan's breach-of-contract claim could not be sustained because the school's tuition and fee agreement and financial responsibility agreement with students included no language requiring that it provide in-person instruction.

"They do not state that classes will be conducted only on a live in-person basis, nor do they state that refunds of tuition … will be provided if classes are taught online due to exigent circumstances," the school said.

Additionally, the school argued that courts routinely dismiss both contract and unjust enrichment claims, which were also leveled as part of Ryan's suit, based on allegations that a university provided a subpar education.

"Under Pennsylvania law, there is no cause of action for failure to provide a 'quality' education," the university argued.

The school also contended that Ryan's alleged damages — pled as the difference in value between in-person versus online classes — were too speculative to be allowed to move forward.

"Simply put, plaintiff does not present any factual allegations demonstrating how she was harmed economically by Temple's prudent and mandatory adjustment to an online format for the last seven weeks of the semester in response to the pandemic, nor how a fact-finder could reasonably determine the difference in value between her in-person and online instruction without engaging in impermissible speculation," the school said.

A university spokesman declined to comment on the motion when contacted Wednesday afternoon, while an attorney for the plaintiff did not immediately return a message from a reporter.

Ryan is represented by Eric Poulin and Roy Willey IV of the Anastopoulo Law Firm, and Stuart Carpey of Carpey Law PC.

Temple is represented by Gerard Dever, Jessica Davis Khan and Roberta Liebenberg of Fine Kaplan and Black RPC.

The case is Ryan v. Temple University, case number 5:20-cv-02164, before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

--Editing by Abbie Sarfo.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

RYAN v. TEMPLE UNIVERSITY


Case Number

5:20-cv-02164

Court

Pennsylvania Eastern

Nature of Suit

Contract: Other

Judge

JOHN M. GALLAGHER

Date Filed

May 05, 2020

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