July 7, 2020, 10:22 a.m. CDT
The annual tuition fee at Harvard Law School is $ 65,875, and a student there thinks he should get back at least part of it.
Thanks to COVID-19, the Ivy League institution switched to online courses with one of the largest foundations in the country in March. With the school's announcement in June that the fall 2020 semester would be online, Abraham Barkhordar, an aspiring 2L at Harvard, filed a lawsuit demanding that the tuition fees be discounted.
Barkhordar's lawsuit was filed on June 22 with the Massachusetts District Court. Breach of contract, unjust enrichment and transformation are claimed. According to a press release, he is represented by two law firms, Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro and Burns Charest, and the lawsuit is seeking class action lawsuit.
Civil litigation lawyers are not so sure about the merits of the lawsuit and are wondering whether it will go beyond the summary judgment. While universities are expected to teach students, the courts generally don't weigh up how the training is offered, and it's hard to argue that the plaintiff didn't get at least something valuable from the spring semester, some lawyers say.
“If the students want a full refund, the law schools will fight and have good reasons. Many have had online courses and we're constantly experimenting with education, ”said Joseph Devlin, a contract professor at the Massachusetts School of Law Andover.
It could be different if a school charges less for online credits before the coronavirus pandemic, he adds. In this situation, students could argue that they should be charged less because their courses were not fully personally taught.
"If I am a vacuum cleaner seller and sell you the more expensive vacuum cleaner but we do not have it in stock and I get you another vacuum cleaner, I cannot charge you the higher price." Of course, that's not fair, ”explains Devlin.
T. Warren Jackson is a mediator and arbitrator in Los Angeles and a graduate and parent of Harvard Law.
Hagens Berman, one of the companies representing Barkhordar, has filed similar lawsuits against other universities, including the University of Southern California, George Washington University, and Emory University, according to the press release at the time.
According to Kaytie Pickett, a civil law partner of Jones Walker, Harvard's circumstances could make her a less convincing defendant. "I think some plaintiffs may be more sympathetic than others if a school has a lot of facilities and no financial problems. This is not a legal argument, but a convincing argument," said Pickett.
The Barkhordar lawsuit argued that Harvard's transition to online learning led to a decline in the quality and academic accuracy of his education. Making an argument about the quality of education could be difficult, and it would have to be specific, according to Pickett, who is based in Jackson, Mississippi.
“You could argue, 'We were promised a class size of less than 40 people in a one-to-one class, and we were promised a certain number of office hours with professors. & # 39; This could form the basis for reasonable working hours, expecting the school to promise personal lessons, "she says.
Harvard University informed the ABA Journal that it did not comment on pending litigation. On a FAQ page on the decision, the law school said it would not implement an earlier plan to increase tuition fees for 2020-2021, noting that funding was increased.
The FAQ page also claimed that the legal faculty's operating costs in online classes have not changed significantly.
Some lawyers interviewed by the ABA Journal wondered whether universities would in future include no or no mandatory arbitration clauses in admission contracts. This is extremely unlikely because a U.S. Department of Education ordinance prohibits mandatory arbitration clauses for schools that receive direct loans, says T. Warren Jackson.
As a mediator and arbitrator in Los Angeles, Jackson is also a graduate and parent of Harvard Law. His son Evan Jackson is an up-and-coming third year law school student.
“It was a kind of fire drill. They are doing their best to adjust, ”says Jackson, adding that the university has reimbursed what he paid for his son's campus accommodation.
"It's a no-brainer," said Jackson, former senior vice president and associate general counsel at DIRECTV. He does not expect tuition reimbursement and believes that it is difficult to break the contractual argument.
The law school promised to provide education for students, Jackson adds, but made no commitments about which professors they would have, which books would be used, or what the professors' educational views would be.
"Schools don't say," Your class is taught by a superstar professor, so I'll charge you a premium, "he says, adding that most, if not all, of the law schools in March due to online courses on online courses have changed concerns about public health.
"Then how do you argue that the school deviates from expectations?" Jackson asks. "It would be different if schools closed and people did not reimburse."