University of Delaware agrees to settle class-action suit over COVID campus shutdown
Jun 14, 2023, 3:50 PM
DOVER, Del. (AP) — The University of Delaware has agreed to pay $6.3 million to settle a lawsuit over its campus shutdown in 2020 and the halting of in-person classes because of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to court papers that were filed this month and signed by the plaintiffs and university president Dennis Assanis, some 21,000 current and former students could receive cash reimbursements.
While agreeing to settle the case, the university continues to deny all allegations of wrongdoing.
Court records indicate that the university reached an agreement in principle in late April, less than a month after a federal judge ruled that the case could proceed as a class action on behalf of thousands of students who were enrolled and paid tuition in the spring semester of 2020, when the campus was shut down.
Under the settlement, which is awaiting final court approval, the university will pay $6.3 million into an escrow account overseen by a settlement administrator. Of that amount, plaintiffs’ attorneys will receive $2.1 million in fees and up to $250,000 in reimbursement for expenses. The five students who were named plaintiffs in the lawsuit are entitled to payments of $5,000 each as class representatives.
The remainder will be distributed equally among class members, consisting of undergraduate and graduate students who paid any tuition and fees for the spring 2020 semester and do not opt out of the settlement. Class members will automatically receive their reimbursements by check mailed to their last known mailing address. They can update their address or opt to receive payments by Venmo or PayPal by completing an election form on a settlement website that will be established.
In a March ruling certifying the lawsuit as a class action, Judge Stephanos Bibas rejected the university’s argument that the plaintiffs, who accused the school of breach of contract and unjust enrichment, lacked standing to sue. The university also argued unsuccessfully that it was impossible to know who actually paid tuition because some students may have used outside sources like scholarships.
“Those students, no less than students who paid out of their own pockets, were parties to a contract that U. Delaware allegedly breached,” wrote Bibas, who noted that the only students excluded from the class of plaintiffs would be those who received full scholarships.
According to the ruling, more than 17,000 undergraduates were enrolled at the University of Delaware in spring 2020, and the university collected more than $160 million in tuition that semester.
The plaintiffs argued that, before the pandemic, the school treated in-person and online classes as separate offerings and charged more for some in-person programs than it did for similar online classes. They also noted that the university charged them fees for the gym, student centers, and the health center, sometimes at higher rates than those paid by online students, and that the school kept those fees while denying them the services during the pandemic closure.
Bibas previously ruled that the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that the school implicitly promised them in-person classes, activities and services.