Orrick Team Secures Dismissal of Covid-19-Related Tuition Class Action Against Santa Clara University


Backing the arguments of an Orrick litigation team, a California federal judge has dismissed a Covid-19-related class action against Santa Clara University over claims SCU students were entitled to reimbursement for tuition and fees because the school shifted to online instruction as a result of the pandemic.

The plaintiffs brought a number of claims, including a claim for breach of an implied contract, in connection with SCU’s transition to online instruction in March 2020 following the implementation of regional stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders. After Orrick filed its motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs voluntarily dropped claims as to students on the quarter system (approximately 90 percent of the proposed class) and abandoned claims for conversion and violation of the unlawful prong of California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL).

In an 18-page ruling on March 29, 2021, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh granted Santa Clara University’s motion to dismiss as to the remaining breach of contract, UCL and unjust enrichment claims. The court agreed with our arguments that vague statements in university promotional materials do not constitute “specific” promises that can support a breach of contact claim under California law; and California has no stand-alone cause of action for unjust enrichment.

The case is one of dozens filed against colleges and universities across the country seeking refunds of tuition and fees following the transition to remote instruction as a result of COVID-19.

The Orrick team was led by partners Karen Johnson-McKewan and Marc Shapiro and associates Sarah Mullins and Haley Jankowski.