Rider battles lawsuit about refunds for the spring 2020 semester

By Sarah Siock

The New Jersey Superior Court declined Rider’s request to dismiss a class-action lawsuit brought forward by a student after the university refused to issue tuition refunds for the spring 2020 semester.

Rider argued that the court should dismiss the lawsuit filed by senior marine sciences major Joscelyn Quiroz and her father due to the dismissal of similar lawsuits at various colleges and universities in the state.

Quiroz’s suit states that due to the pandemic-related switch to all-remote learning, Rider did not provide the benefit of the education that students paid for without refunding tuition and fees. The suit claims “remote learning options were in no way the equivalent of the in-person education that plaintiffs and the putative class members contracted and paid for.”

According to the online legal reporting site Law360, Rider’s attorney Angelo A. Stio III of Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP argued that a New Jersey federal court recently dismissed similar claims against Drew University located in Madison, New Jersey. A judge ruled Drew’s transition to virtual education during the 2020 school year was permitted under the college’s reservation of rights clause which allowed the university to modify its academic program.

Similar to the lawsuit that was filed against Drew University, Quiroz and her father claimed that Rider breached its contract when it failed to refund tuition after it wasn’t able to provide in-person instruction due to government orders.

Rider’s attorney disputed their claim.

“Here, Rider’s reservation of rights is even stronger than Drew University’s. Rider’s say expressly there is no contract,” Stio told Mercer County Superior Court Judge Douglas H. Hurd.

According to the suit, Quiroz and her father paid the university over $14,000 in spring 2020 and they are seeking a prorated refund for all students who paid to attend the university in spring 2020.

Philip L. Fraietta of Bursor & Fisher PA, an attorney for Quiroz, argued that the university acted in bad faith, not by closing the university due to the pandemic but for keeping the tuition money.

According to Law360 Fraietta said in court, “If you bought tickets to go to Disney World and then Disney World closed down, then they can’t say, ‘We can keep the money’ and offer Disney World on YouTube.”

While the university did offer tuition refunds in spring 2020, Rider did give prorated refunds for room and board.

Associate Vice President of University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown said, “Rider University asked the New Jersey Superior Court to dismiss the complaint because, rather than simply ending the term in response to the State’s Order in March 2020 to cease all in-person instruction, Rider quickly pivoted at great expense to remote teaching. Rider provided the education and course credits under extremely difficult circumstances. Rider believes it responded appropriately and fairly to the challenges imposed by the pandemic and it will defend itself against claims that are without merit.”

According to Brown, the court denied Rider’s request to dismiss the suit on April 20 and the lawsuit will continue with pre-trial proceedings.

Quiroz, her representatives and Rider’s attorney could not be reached for this story.

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