Abuelhawa v. Santa Clara Univ., Case No. 20-CV-04045-LHK

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
Writing for the CourtLUCY H. KOH, United States District Judge
Citation529 F.Supp.3d 1059
Decision Date29 March 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 20-CV-04045-LHK
Parties ilas ABUELHAWA, et al., Plaintiffs, v. SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

529 F.Supp.3d 1059

ilas ABUELHAWA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

Case No. 20-CV-04045-LHK

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division.

Signed March 29, 2021


529 F.Supp.3d 1061

L. Timothy Fisher, Joel Dashiell Smith, Bursor & Fisher, P.A., Walnut Creek, CA, Sarah N. Westcot, Bursor & Fisher PA, Miami, FL, for Plaintiffs.

Karen G. Johnson-McKewan, Randall Scott Luskey, Sarah Kate Mullins, Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, San Francisco, CA, for Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS’ FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT

Re: Dkt. No. 32

LUCY H. KOH, United States District Judge

Plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, allege that Defendant Santa Clara University ("SCU") violated California law by halting in-person education in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs specifically claim that SCU (1) breached an alleged implied-in-fact contract; (2) violated the "unfair" prong of California's Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Profs. Code §§ 17200 et seq. ; and (3) unjustly enriched itself. ECF No. 25. Before the Court is SCU's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ first amended complaint. ECF No. 32. Having considered the parties’ submissions, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS SCU's motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

On February 7, 2020, a woman in Santa Clara County died of COVID-19, becoming the first known COVID-19 death in the United States. Tandon v. Newsom , No. 20-CV-07108-LHK, ––– F.Supp.3d ––––, ––––, 2021 WL 411375, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 5, 2021). On March 4, 2020, Governor Gavin declared a state of emergency in California. RJN No. 19, ECF No. 30.1 Thus, on March 10, 2020, SCU temporarily suspended in-person

529 F.Supp.3d 1062

classes and moved to online instruction. See First Am. Compl. ("FAC") ¶ 4, ECF No. 25.

Days later, on March 16, 2020, the Santa Clara County Health Officer issued a shelter-in-place order. RJN No. 20. Under the order, schools such as SCU could open only "for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing essential functions," not in-person instruction. Id. at § 10(f)(xi). To follow the order, SCU announced on March 16, 2020 that its educational experience would remain online for the Spring 2020 term. FAC ¶ 4. SCU's announcement preceded the March 30, 2020 start of SCU's Spring 2020 Quarter for all SCU schools except the Jesuit School of Theology and Law School. Those two schools operate on the semester system rather than the quarter system. Thus, except for students at the Jesuit School of Theology and Law School, SCU students had over two-weeks’ notice that the Spring 2020 Quarter would be held remotely.

Plaintiffs are three SCU law students who bring a putative class action against SCU's temporary suspension of in-person instruction. Specifically, Plaintiffs Lilas Abuelhawa, Kelly Wynne, and Leonardo Kim seek to represent the following class and subclass of students:

• The Class: "all people who paid SCU Spring 2020 Semester tuition and/or fees for in-person educational services that SCU failed to provide, and whose tuition and fees have not been refunded."2

• The Law Student Subclass: "SCU law students who paid SCU Spring 2020 Semester tuition and/or fees for in-person educational services that SCU failed to provide, and whose tuition and fees have not been refunded."

FAC ¶ 45. At first, Plaintiffs sought to represent all SCU students, not just those on the semester system. See id. ¶ 3 (defining "semester" to include "quarter" and "any academic period"). After SCU moved to dismiss the First Amended Complaint, however, Plaintiffs abandoned their claims on behalf of all SCU students. The putative classes now comprise only "those students on the semester system"—that is, students at the Law School and the Jesuit School of Theology. Opp'n at 11 n.3.

Plaintiffs do not challenge the allegedly "inferior learning experience" of online classes. FAC ¶ 44; accord Opp'n at 5 ("Plaintiffs are not suing because they claim they received a lower quality education ...."). The "gravamen of this action" is instead that Plaintiffs "paid SCU for in-person classes and the availability of on-campus facilities and experiences, and did not receive what they paid for." FAC

529 F.Supp.3d 1063

¶ 44. Under this theory of the case, Plaintiffs assert three claims: (1) breach of an alleged implied-in-fact contract; (2) violation of California's Unfair Competition Law ("UCL"), Cal. Bus. & Profs. Code §§ 17200 et seq. , as the result of SCU's alleged "unfair" practices; and (3) unjust enrichment. Id. ¶¶ 54–71, 79–86. All three claims are based on SCU breaking its alleged promises to provide in-person instruction. See id. ¶¶ 57 (contract claim), 66 (UCL claim), 82 (unjust enrichment claim).

The FAC also pleads a claim for conversion (Count 3) and a UCL claim under the "unlawful" prong. However, Plaintiffs withdraw these claims in their Opposition to the instant motion to dismiss. Opp'n at 2. Thus, the Court DISMISSES with prejudice Plaintiffs’ conversion claim and UCL "unlawful" prong claim.

Plaintiffs allege that SCU promised in-person instruction in its course materials, student bulletins, and website. See id. at ¶¶ 16, 21–33. Course materials allegedly promised in-person instruction by distinguishing between in-person and online instruction. If SCU offered a course in person, SCU allegedly identified the on-campus location of the course and sometimes required a "mandatory in-person class session" to confirm a student's enrollment in the class. Id. ¶¶ 19, 28.

Student bulletins allegedly "refer to the in-person nature of the Spring 2020 semester." Id. ¶ 21. Plaintiffs specifically cite certain statements in the law student bulletin. That bulletin notifies students that they must complete 64 credit hours "at the law school" and that teachers "may utilize class attendance" in grading. FAC ¶ 21. The law student bulletin also mentions certain on-campus facilities. Id.

Lastly, SCU's website advertises SCU's on-campus experience. Id. ¶ 22. Specifically, the website praises SCU's faculty, libraries, and campus life. As for faculty, the website touts SCU's "connected & engaged faculty." Id. ¶ 22. As for libraries, SCU's website describes libraries as "much more than book repositories; they're inspiring spaces for research, collaboration, and reflection." Id. ¶ 23. As to campus life, the website advertises "special places on campus" and "organization[s] on campus." Id. ¶¶ 24–27.

In sum, Plaintiffs’ claims rely on these statements in course materials, student bulletins, and SCU's website. Plaintiffs allege that these statements constitute SCU's promises to either (1) hold in-person instruction despite the COVID-19 pandemic; or (2) to refund Plaintiffs’ tuition. FAC ¶¶ 33–44.

Yet Plaintiffs fail to mention other statements in SCU's course materials or student bulletins. As for course materials, the "online course portal" that Plaintiffs allege viewing contains financial terms and conditions. FAC ¶ 17. "Students are required to accept the financial terms and conditions outlined by the University in order to continue their enrollment at SCU." RJN No. 13. These terms and conditions specifically provide that SCU's hyperlinked "tuition refund schedule" governs refunds:

I accept full responsibility to pay all tuition, room and board, fees, and other associated costs as a result of enrollment at Santa Clara University .... I have reviewed the published tuition refund schedule at www.scu.edu/bursar/refund and understand that if I drop or withdraw from some or all of the classes for which I enroll, I will be responsible for paying all or a portion of tuition and fees in accordance with the University's tuition refund schedule .... I have read the above and agree to assume all financial responsibility associated with my enrollment at Santa Clara University.

RJN No. 10 (emphasis added). As for student bulletins, all bulletins except the Jesuit School of Theology's state that "[n]o tuition refunds are made because of curtailed

529 F.Supp.3d 1064

services resulting from strikes, acts of God , civil insurrection, riots or threats thereof, or other causes beyond the control of the University. " RJN No. 14 (emphasis added).

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint on June 17, 2020. ECF No. 1. On September 28, 2020, SCU moved to dismiss that complaint. ECF No. 21. On October 12, 2020, Plaintiffs filed their operative First Amended Complaint. The parties then stipulated to SCU filing a new motion to dismiss the FAC, and on October 23, 2020, the Court granted that stipulation. ECF No. 27.

On November 9, 2020, SCU filed the instant motion to dismiss and an unopposed request for judicial notice. ECF Nos. 32 ("Mot."), 30–31 ("RJN"). On December 14, 2020, Plaintiffs filed (1) their opposition to the instant motion to dismiss, ECF No. 33 ("Opp'n"); and (2) their own request for judicial notice, ECF No. 34 ("Ps’ RJN"). SCU filed its reply...

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4 practice notes
  • Nguyen v. Stephens Inst., Case No. 20-cv-04195-JSW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • March 30, 2021
    ...877 (2014).Here, Nguyen alleges he paid a total of approximately $12,601.00 for tuition and fees for the Spring 2020 semester. (Compl. 529 F.Supp.3d 1059 ¶ 9.) Nguyen does not seek to recover the entire amount of tuition and fees he paid but rather seeks an unspecified "pro-rata share of th......
  • Abuelhawa v. Santa Clara Univ., 20-CV-04045-LHK
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • November 29, 2021
    ...Clara County died of COVID-19, becoming the first known COVID-19 death in the United States. See Abuelhawa v. Santa Clara University, 529 F.Supp.3d 1059, 1061 (N.D. Cal. 2021) (hereafter “Abuelhawa I”). On March 4, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California. Id.......
  • In re Generic Pharm. Pricing Antitrust Litig., 16-CB-27242
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • May 10, 2022
    ...least with respect to EPPs' clomipramine claims, the Court will consider the argument. [89] See, e.g., Abuelhawa v. Santa Clara Univ., 529 F.Supp.3d 1059, 1070-72 (N.D. Cal. 2021); In re: Lamictal Indirect Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig., 172 F.Supp.3d 724, 755-56 (D.N.J. 2016). [90] ......
  • Shin v. Icon Found., 20-cv-07363-WHO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • December 27, 2021
    ...Courts disagree as to whether unjust enrichment is a standalone claim under California law. See, e.g., Abuelhawa v. Santa Clara Univ., 529 F.Supp.3d 1059, 1070 (N.D. Cal. 2021) ("California does not recognize a separate cause of action for unjust enrichment."); Brooks v. Thomson Reuters Cor......
4 cases
  • Nguyen v. Stephens Inst., Case No. 20-cv-04195-JSW
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • March 30, 2021
    ...877 (2014).Here, Nguyen alleges he paid a total of approximately $12,601.00 for tuition and fees for the Spring 2020 semester. (Compl. 529 F.Supp.3d 1059 ¶ 9.) Nguyen does not seek to recover the entire amount of tuition and fees he paid but rather seeks an unspecified "pro-rata share of th......
  • Abuelhawa v. Santa Clara Univ., 20-CV-04045-LHK
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • November 29, 2021
    ...Clara County died of COVID-19, becoming the first known COVID-19 death in the United States. See Abuelhawa v. Santa Clara University, 529 F.Supp.3d 1059, 1061 (N.D. Cal. 2021) (hereafter “Abuelhawa I”). On March 4, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California. Id.......
  • In re Generic Pharm. Pricing Antitrust Litig., 16-CB-27242
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • May 10, 2022
    ...least with respect to EPPs' clomipramine claims, the Court will consider the argument. [89] See, e.g., Abuelhawa v. Santa Clara Univ., 529 F.Supp.3d 1059, 1070-72 (N.D. Cal. 2021); In re: Lamictal Indirect Purchaser & Antitrust Consumer Litig., 172 F.Supp.3d 724, 755-56 (D.N.J. 2016). [90] ......
  • Shin v. Icon Found., 20-cv-07363-WHO
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Northern District of California
    • December 27, 2021
    ...Courts disagree as to whether unjust enrichment is a standalone claim under California law. See, e.g., Abuelhawa v. Santa Clara Univ., 529 F.Supp.3d 1059, 1070 (N.D. Cal. 2021) ("California does not recognize a separate cause of action for unjust enrichment."); Brooks v. Thomson Reuters Cor......

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