eNotes: Liability – May 2022 – Washington, DC
May 02, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARY
DC CASE SUMMARY
Shafer v. George Washington Univ.
United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
2022 U.S. App. LEXIS 5949
Decided: March 8, 2022
Students denied in-person schooling due to the COVID pandemic have implied breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims against American and George Washington University.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, resulting in travel and assembly restrictions throughout the United States. George Washington University and American University suspended all in person events and activities for the rest of the semester, without offering any prorated refunds to students. Plaintiffs, who paid all tuition and fees required for enrollment in on-campus instruction and experiences for the spring 2020 semester, brought suit. The suit, consolidated in a class action, alleged claims for breach of express or implied contract and unjust enrichment.
The University Defendants moved to dismiss, and the Trial Court granted the Motion, reasoning that no plausible reading of the university materials gives rise to an enforceable contractual promise for in-person instruction. The Court also concluded that Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claim was inappropriate because it required the court to displace the terms of the alleged contract and that the conversion claim was insufficiently distinct from the contract claims.
The U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected Plaintiff’s express breach of contract claims, but found they plausibly alleged that the Universities breached implied promises to provide in-person education in exchange for tuition and to provide on-campus services and activities in exchange for some of the student fees at issue. The Court further allowed Plaintiffs’ unjust enrichment claims, stating that Plaintiffs’ plausibly alleged an alternative theory of liability, if the District Court found that no contract was to have existed; that they provided the benefit of tuition and fees to the Universities under a contract that does not cover the issue in dispute. The Court remanded the case to the District Court to determine the contours of any promises governing in-person education, the retention of tuition and fees in the absence of in-person education, and the Universities’ duty to perform any such promises.
Questions about this case can be directed to Nicholas Schaufelberger at (202) 945-9502 or firstname.lastname@example.org.