Olivia Newton-John - ‘Grease’ star, ‘Physical’ singer - dead at 73

Michigan appeals court: Universities don't owe students reimbursements for online classes

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

A state Court of Appeals panel ruled Thursday that three Michigan universities don't owe students financial reimbursements for switching classes from in-person to online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The students had sued Central Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and Lake Superior State University. They argued their schools breached agreements by changing to "emergency remote teaching."

In a 2-1 ruling, the judges upheld a lower court's decision in favor of the universities, contending the students had failed to prove the schools "breached any contractual agreement with them."

A 'We Do' sign sits on Central Michigan University's campus in Mount Pleasant on Aug. 18, 2021. A state Court of Appeals panel ruled Thursday CMU, as well as Eastern Michigan University and Lake Superior State University don't owe students financial reimbursements for switching classes from in-person to online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The majority opinion written by Judge Kirsten Frank Kelly said the students had failed to provide contractual language in which the universities promised live, in-person instruction.

"There is nothing so injurious to the public about this arrangement to cause the court to afford relief under this theory," wrote Kelly, who was appointed to a Wayne County court in 1994 by Republican former Gov. John Engler.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Eastern Michigan, for example, had offered instruction "in a manner that was safe to the students, faculty and staff," the judge added. The fact that a student perceives the contract, in hindsight, to be unfair, doesn't render the contract as against public policy, she added.

Judge James Robert Redford, an Engler appointee, signed on to Kelly's opinion.

The third judge, Brock Swartzle, wrote his own opinion, arguing against rejecting the students' claims outright.

"In the end, there is a growing body of evidence, including evidence in this record, that students of all ages suffered significant educational setbacks during the winter/spring 2020 semester, and possibly beyond," wrote Swartzle, an appointee of Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder. "It adds insult to injury for a university student to have to pay full price for emergency remote teaching when that student allegedly bargained for much different educational services."

The students should be given the opportunity to make their case with the possibility of a trial, Swartzle said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com