Pa. College Sued For Refunds After Virus Cancels Classes

By Matt Fair
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Law360 (October 14, 2020, 4:11 PM EDT) -- A Pennsylvania College of Technology student and his mother have launched a class action in state court seeking a refund after the school was forced to close down its campus in the spring as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Michael James Lawson Jr. and Tara Lawson said the Lycoming County college, which is an independent affiliate of Penn State University, only offered a limited refund representing four weeks of room and board, but the school kept other fees related to on-campus instruction and activities.

"An arbitrary refund of four weeks of housing and meal costs is wholly inadequate and unlawful," the two said in a complaint filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on Monday. "Defendant has refused and continues to refuse to offer any pro-rated reduction or refund on tuition."

According to the complaint, the then-burgeoning coronavirus pandemic forced the college to pivot to an online-only model in mid-March and to largely shut down its Williamsport campus.

The school subsequently announced it would be providing students with a four-week refund for room and board payments.

Aside from room and board, however, the Lawsons said they had made a number of other payments to the school — including capital fees, technology fees, lab fees, health services fees and activity fees — that were not refunded.

Additionally, the family said in its complaint that the school should provide partial tuition refunds for the value students lost as a result of classes moving entirely online.

To underscore the point, the complaint pointed to language in the school's mission statement and other admission material touting its emphasis on "hands-on technical education."

"This is so axiomatic and ingrained into the culture of higher education and Pennsylvania College of Technology specifically that it is enshrined within defendant's mission statement, vision statement and values," the family said.

The case seeks to establish several independent classes devoted to providing refunds for tuition, fees, on-campus housing costs and meal payments.

The family said they expected there would be some 5,000 members of the different classes.

The case is one of a growing number of class actions filed against colleges and universities throughout the country on behalf of students seeking tuition and fee refunds after campuses were forced to close down in the spring because of the coronavirus.

A spokesman for the college declined to comment Wednesday.

An attorney for the plaintiffs did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The plaintiffs are represented by Stuart Carpey of Carpey Law PC.

Counsel information for PCT was not immediately available.

The case is Michael James Lawson Jr. et al. v. Pennsylvania College of Technology, case number 201000698, before the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

--Editing by Amy Rowe.

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

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