Virus Claims Seeking Rutgers Tuition Refund Dropped

By Jeannie O'Sullivan
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Law360 (July 29, 2020, 6:05 PM EDT) -- The mother of a Rutgers University student on Wednesday dropped a proposed class action seeking reimbursement for tuition paid for courses that were reduced to online instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a move that comes about a week after the school announced a tuition freeze and fee reductions.

U.S. District Judge Brian Martinotti signed Kari Rocchio's notice of voluntary dismissal, which didn't offer any reasoning for why the claims were dropped. The complaint, which was dismissed without prejudice, mirrors a wave of suits over canceled in-person classes at schools such as Temple University in Philadelphia and Loyola University Chicago.

According to Rocchio's April 30 lawsuit, then-Rutgers President Robert Barchi announced the cancellation of classes between March 12 and March 22 due to the pandemic. Classes have been held remotely since they resumed March 23, according to the complaint.

The remote instruction falls short, according to Rocchio.

"The online learning options being offered to Rutgers students are subpar in practically every aspect, from the lack of facilities, materials, and access to faculty. Students have been deprived of the opportunity for collaborative learning and in-person dialogue, feedback, and critique," the complaint said.

"The remote learning options are in no way the equivalent of the in-person education that plaintiff and the putative class members contracted and paid for," the complaint said.

Even if Rutgers didn't have a choice about shifting instruction to an online format, "it nevertheless has improperly retained funds for services it is not providing," the complaint said.

Rocchio accused Rutgers of breach of contract and unjust enrichment. She sought to represent a class of students who paid tuition and fees for the Spring 2020 academic semester.

Spring 2020 tuition prices at the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based school ranged from $6,115 for an arts and sciences undergraduate degree to $24,048 for a graduate degree in business.

The dismissal of the lawsuit comes a little more than a week after Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway announced a temporary reduction in campus fees.

The fee reduction followed a June decision by the Rutgers Board of Governors to institute a tuition freeze in response to the pandemic's financial stranglehold on families, according to Holloway's July 16 announcement. Among the "consequences" of that tuition freeze is a $160 million budget shortfall and staff furloughs, the announcement said.

Representatives for the parties didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Rocchio is represented by Philip L. Fraietta, Alec M. Leslie, Scott A. Bursor and Sarah N. Westcot of Bursor & Fisher PA.

Rutgers is represented by Andrew B. Joseph, Jeffrey S. Jacobson and Kristen N. Roshto of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP.

The case is Rocchio v. Rutgers, case number 3:20-cv-05390, in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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

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Case Information

Case Title

ROCCHIO v. RUTGERS


Case Number

3:20-cv-05390

Court

New Jersey

Nature of Suit

Contract: Other

Judge

Brian R. Martinotti

Date Filed

April 30, 2020

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