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Berger Montague Announces Class Action Lawsuit on Behalf of USC Students Who Have Been Denied Tuition Refunds Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

DATE: May 5, 2020
PRACTICE AREAS: Consumer Protection

SAN DIEGO, May 5, 2020 – National plaintiffs’ class action and complex litigation law firm Berger Montague filed a class action lawsuit today against the University of Southern California (“USC”) and its Board of Trustees to recover tuition and fees for students whose Spring 2020 classes were cancelled or moved online during the Coronavirus pandemic. The lawsuit is Watson v. The University of Southern California, et al., pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

The suit alleges that USC is profiting from the current crisis by failing to provide the in-person classes, academic enrichment, and other services that students paid for, while refusing to refund all or part of tuition and fees despite the dramatically lower quality and less valuable education and services it is now offering only online.

Around March 11, 2020, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, USC announced its intention to cease all in-person classes and close its campus facilities. Since that time the university has provided only online courses and has announced that all Summer courses will also be online. Numerous school facilities, including the school’s library, are closed.

Over 7,000 people have signed an online petition at www.change.org requesting that USC provide refunds to students to compensate them for the harm suffered as a result of the campus closures, failure to provide in-person instruction, and other benefits promised by the university and paid for by its students.

In spite of students’ requests for refunds of tuition and fees, on April 28, 2020, USC Provost Charles Zukoski sent a campus-wide email announcing that the university would not offer students any prorated tuition refunds for the Spring semester or upcoming Summer sessions.

USC has received $19 million in government funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), half of which is federally mandated to go toward students who need emergency financial assistance.

Despite receiving this influx of federal funds, USC refuses to refund or reimburse USC students the fees they paid for the education and other services that are not being provided, including fees for mandatory meal plans that are no longer available. Plaintiffs have lost the benefits of the education, services, housing, food, and other experiences that USC promised.

The lawsuit alleges that USC is thus profiting from the current crisis, asking students and their families, many of whom have borne the brunt of the pandemic themselves, been laid off, or who are ill or suffering from financial setbacks, to shoulder additional financial burden. Plaintiffs therefore seek to recover injunctive, declaratory, and equitable relief, and any other available remedies, resulting from the defendants’ illegal, inequitable, and unfair retention of the funds paid by class members.

“We believe that USC’s refusal to refund students’ tuition and fees during this crisis is unconscionable,” said Benjamin Galdston, shareholder and head of Berger Montague’s San Diego office.  “USC is one of the nation’s most expensive private universities with a $6 billion endowment and flush with nearly $20 million in taxpayer-funded relief. Having failed to provide what it promised students, USC cannot keep their money.”

USC students who have not received any tuition or fee reimbursements for the Spring 2020 semester or Summer 2020 sessions are encouraged to contact Berger Montague’s case team at reimbursetuitionandfees@bm.net. Berger Montague has assembled a task force of dedicated attorneys and staff who will respond promptly.

Berger Montague is a national plaintiffs’ class action and complex litigation law firm headquartered in Philadelphia with offices in San Diego, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C. Berger Montague litigates complex civil cases and class actions in federal and state courts throughout the United States. In its 50 years of operation, the Firm has pioneered the use of class actions in America and recovered well over $36 billion for its clients and the class members it has represented.

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