Columbia University students are seeking approval of a $12.5 million settlement to resolve would-be class claims in a lawsuit demanding refunds, after the school canceled in-person classes due to Covid-19 in Spring 2020.
If the deal wins the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York’s approval, it would represent a full recovery for the students’ alleged $8.56 million in damages arising from unrefunded fees for the portion of the semester conducted remotely.
The roughly $4 million that Columbia would pay above the $8.56 million in alleged damages accounts for administrative expenses, attorneys’ fees, class representative awards, and further litigation risks, the named plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary approval said.
The students’ breach of contract claim for fees paid for on-campus facilities and activities was the only one to survive Columbia’s early challenges.
Their seven remaining claims, including those for tuition refunds based on the change to an online instructional format, were dismissed earlier this year.
The proposed settlement class, which is estimated to include about 30,000 members, comprises Columbia students assessed Spring 2020 fees, excluding those students who were originally enrolled in online programs or who withdrew from an in-person program before March 13, 2020.
The fund would be divided among the covered Columbia programs, which includes both graduate and undergraduate programs, based on the total amount of Spring 2020 fees assessed to would-be class members enrolled in a particular program, compared to the total amount of Spring 2020 fees assessed to members enrolled in all of the covered programs, accounting for financial aid and any refunds already distributed.
Would-be class members would then receive equal shares of their respective program’s allocation, with an option to receive the money via Venmo or PayPal. Those class members who do nothing will automatically receive a check, sent to their last known mailing address.
Counsel for the proposed settlement class, Gainey McKenna & Egleston and Anastopoulo Law Firm LLC, said they would seek no more than one-third of he settlement fund for fees.
The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York are represented by Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP.
The case is In re Columbia University Tuitiion Refund Action, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:20-cv-03208, motion 11/23/21.