Law360 (April 9, 2020, 6:23 PM EDT) -- Students at the University of Miami and Drexel University hit their respective institutions with a pair of proposed class actions Wednesday, claiming that because the private universities’ campuses closed down amid the coronavirus pandemic, students should be reimbursed for certain tuition fees and other costs.
According to the suits, both lodged in South Carolina federal court, students paid for a slew of services they’re no longer receiving, including face-to-face interaction with professors, access to campus facilities and hands-on learning. The students also paid mandatory fees that went toward activities, athletics and wellness offerings, they said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and the campuses were temporarily shuttered, students were deprived of the benefits of on-campus learning, the students said.
“Although [the universities are] still offering some level of academic instruction via online classes, plaintiff and members of the proposed [classes] have been and will be deprived of the benefits of on-campus learning,” the students said in both complaints.
“Moreover, the value of any degree issued on the basis of online or pass/fail classes will be diminished” for the rest of the students’ lives, they said.
But the universities have failed to adequately refund tuition to students, according to the suits. Neither complaint included tuition and fees information for the institutions.
Named plaintiffs Adelaide Dixon, who attends the University of Miami, and Grainger Rickenbaker, a student at Drexel in Philadelphia, are looking to represent two classes of potentially thousands of students enrolled at their respective institutions who’ve paid tuition and fees for the spring 2020 semester. Attorneys at the South Carolina-based Anastopoulo Law Firm LLC are representing the students in both suits.
According to the institutions, the University of Miami has a total enrollment of approximately 17,800 students and Drexel University has almost 24,200 students.
In both complaints, Dixon and Grainger said they picked their universities over “hundreds, if not thousands” of other higher education institutions in the country based on advertising touting the schools’ on-campus experiences.
The tuition they paid covers more than academic instruction, they said. Among other benefits and services, their money goes toward computer labs, libraries, student unions, extra-curricular activities, art, social development and networking opportunities, per the suits.
Dixon, Rickenbaker and the other members of their proposed classes “have been and will be deprived of utilizing services for which they have already paid, such as room, board, access to campus facilities, parking and other opportunities,” they said.
The students are alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment. They’re after unspecified damages, attorney fees and court costs.
Drexel University declined to comment. Counsel for the putative classes and a representative with the University of Miami didn’t immediately return requests for comment Thursday.
The students are represented by Eric M. Poulin and Roy T. Willey of Anastopoulo Law Firm LLC.
Counsel information for the universities wasn’t immediately available Thursday.
The cases are Adelaide Dixon v. University of Miami, case number 2:20-cv-01348, and Grainger Rickenbaker v. Drexel University, case number 2:20-cv-01358, both in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.
--Editing by Bruce Goldman.
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