Judge Rules Lawsuit Against Johns Hopkins University can Proceed Regarding Its Failure to Issue Tuition Refunds after Shifting Classes Online

A federal judge recently ruled in favor of Francis Mailman Soumilas, P.C., and our client in a class-action lawsuit against Johns Hopkins University (JHU) regarding the school’s failure to partially reimburse tuition payments after the school shifted to online-only classes in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the court’s ruling, the lawsuit will move forward.

The Lawsuit

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, our client, is a graduate student in the School of Advanced International Studies at JHU. She is seeking a partial refund of the tuition and fees she paid for the spring 2020 semester and thereafter while JHU offered online classes only. The class of people she is seeking to represent in the lawsuit is made up of all people who paid full tuition and fees for in-person undergraduate or graduate programs during the period in which JHU suspended in-person classes.

In the lawsuit, our client alleges that once JHU stopped providing live classes on March 10, 2020, the school could no longer deliver the educational services, facilities, access, and/or opportunities that its students paid for and contracted for. Therefore, the school should refund the tuition and fees that would have covered the rest of the spring 2020 semester after March 10, 2020 and all times thereafter while JHU offered online classes only.

The lawsuit claims JHU breached its contract with its students by not offering live classes in the spring 2020 semester and in subsequent semesters, and by not refunding part of what the students paid in tuition and fees. It also alleges the school was unjustly enriched by collecting this money for the semester despite not providing in-person classes. Finally, the lawsuit alleges JHU violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act by falsely representing that online education has the same value as in-person education.

The Court’s Ruling

JHU filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the lawsuit should be dismissed because (i) the claims in the case regard the quality of education JHU provides, which is not something courts should rule on; (ii) our client did not identify the basis for a contractual right to in-person, on-campus instruction; (iii) our client did not properly make a claim for unjust enrichment; and (iv) our client did not adequately claim JHU violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act because she did not claim JHU committed fraud or a misrepresentation.

Judge Ellen L. Hollander, U.S. District Judge for the District of Maryland, ruled against JHU on three of those four arguments, thus allowing our client’s case to proceed.

Regarding JHU’s first argument, the court ruled against JHU. Judge Hollander stated that our client’s legal claims were focused on the contract our client alleges she had with JHU regarding a promise by the school to provide in-person educational services, and not on how the school makes academic decisions. Judge Hollander held that because of this, our client’s lawsuit did not require her to evaluate the academic judgments of JHU’s administrators and professors.

Regarding JHU’s second argument, which contended our client did not identify the basis for a breach of contract claim, the court ruled against JHU again. Judge Hollander found that our client properly identified the basis for a contract between her and JHU for in-person, on-campus instruction based on the language she quoted in her complaint from JHU’s official statements and publications, such as students being required to be on-campus at JHU in order to enroll at the school.

Regarding JHU’s third argument, which contended our client did not properly make a claim for unjust enrichment, the court ruled against JHU yet again. Judge Hollander held that our client properly made a claim for unjust enrichment even though her claim could fail later in the case if she can prove a contract existed between her and JHU for in-person, on-campus instruction. (Unjust enrichment claims can only be successful after the parties show there is no actual contract between them.)

Finally, regarding JHU’s fourth argument, which claimed our client did not properly allege that JHU violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act, Judge Hollander ruled in JHU’s favor. She held that our client did not allege any false representations or misrepresentations JHU made regarding online education having the same value as in-person education. Likewise, Judge Hollander stated that a reasonable student would not have considered themself to be deceived or misled when JHU was forced to change its class offerings as a result of an unanticipated event like the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Judge Hollander’s decision, our client’s lawsuit against JHU will continue. We expect a trial to take place sometime in 2022.

“We are happy with Judge Hollander’s decision and look forward to her eventually certifying this lawsuit as a class action,” said Francis Mailman Soumilas shareholder John Soumilas. “Once that occurs, we will anxiously await our client’s day in court so that we can present her case to a jury of Marylanders who we are confident will hold JHU liable for what we believe is its unlawful refusal to issue COVID-19-related tuition refunds.”

Francis Mailman Soumilas, P.C. is one of the nation’s premier consumer rights firms. The firm has obtained top verdicts and settlements, ground-breaking legal rulings, and class certification in countless important consumer rights cases. The firm represents consumers subjected to unfair credit reporting, debt collection, robo-calling, and employment and tenant screening, as well as general consumer fraud and deceptive practice matters. For more info, call 215-735-8600 or contact us online. Located in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, we serve clients nationwide.