Student lawsuit claims breach of contract and asks ASU for refunds

A class-action suit asks ABOR to direct the University to refund students for an experience they didn't receive

An ASU student filed a class-action lawsuit against the Arizona Board of Regents last Wednesday, the third in the past three months, claiming Arizona's public universities violated its contract with students and should refund money they paid for the spring semester. 

This suit, filed by Brock Doemel, a sophomore studying finance, and the one filed in March are very similar: Both ask for a class-action designation, pro-rate proportional refunds, have the same defendant and claim ABOR breached their contract with students as they were not able to provide services a number of students paid for.

The new coronavirus caused all three public universities to move courses online and later asked students to move out of dorms if they were able, in the interest of public health.

Doemel said he understands the University had to transition classes online and encourage students to leave campus under guidance from ABOR and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but he said the consequence was a breach of contract with financial repercussions.

Doemel explained he did not return to his hourly-paid on-campus job after spring break because he wanted to protect his health. He said he's seeking a class-action designation for the case in order to represent other students like him who paid for an educational experience they never finished.

"I don't fault the University for doing what they did," Doemel said. "However, what I think is a little egregious is that the University only gave out credit to individuals who lived in University housing, especially with a pandemic and so many students and their families hurting financially."

READ MORE: UA parents seeking housing, fee refunds file lawsuit against ABOR

Doemel said the difference between his lawsuit and the class-action suit filed by UA parents is that his takes into account the payment students received as a housing credit and asks ABOR to look at the way universities continued to deliver class content and services to students. 

"The universities have not refunded any amount of the tuition or any portion of the mandatory fees, even though it has implemented online distance learning since mid-March," the suit says.

The first suit made a point to highlight how ASU had yet to address the financial issues students were facing when it came to housing. The school has since offered any student who was living on-campus in the spring a credit of $1,500.

A University spokesperson explained the credit would be applied to student accounts on May 15 for those "who are eligible and have finished the checkout process."

"The University tuition price reflects an immersive experience," Doemel said, explaining he felt he was only offered about half of what he paid for.

The suit says a breach of contract occurred when payments for housing and dining were made in full but students were encouraged to leave campus. In addition, students who paid fees used for services and facilities that were later not provided to all students, was another possible breach of contract.

"Plaintiff and the members of the Class have paid tuition for a first-rate education and educational experience, with all the appurtenant benefits offered by a first-rate university, and were provided a materially deficient and insufficient alternative, which constitutes a breach of the contracts entered into," the suit says. 

The suit asks for "appropriate compensatory damages in return of the pro-rated portion of its tuition, housing, dining, and mandatory fees, proportionate to the amount of time that remained in the spring semester 2020, summer semester 2020, and any further semesters" where similar health precautions may be taken.

ABOR and ASU do not comment on pending litigation. 

"An online education through Canvas and Zoom is not nearly worth the amount of an on-campus immersive education," Doemel said.

Editor's note: Doemel is a former State Press opinion columnist. He did not contribute to the reporting or editing of the article. 


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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