Reynolds v. Concordia Univ., St. Paul

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
PartiesAmelia Reynolds, on behalf of herself and those similarly situated, Plaintiff, v. Concordia University, St. Paul, Defendant.
Docket Number21-cv-2560 (ECT/DTS)
Decision Date03 May 2022

Christopher P. Renz, Jeffrey D. Bores, and Bryan L Bleichner, Chestnut Cambronne PA, Minneapolis, MN; Terence Coates and Dylan J. Gould, Markovits, Stock & DeMarco LLC, Cincinnati, OH; and Joseph M. Lyon, The Lyon Law Firm Cincinnati, OH, for Plaintiff Amelia Reynolds.

Jane Dall Wilson and Emanuel Lee McMiller, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Indianapolis, IN; and Jane E. Maschka and Machen Bihrle, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Minneapolis, MN, for Defendant Concordia University, St. Paul.

OPINION AND ORDER

Eric C. Tostrud United States District Judge.

In July 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Plaintiff Amelia Reynolds enrolled in Concordia University, St. Paul's accelerated nursing program. In this putative class action, Reynolds alleges that Concordia failed to provide promised clinical, lab-simulation, and in-person instruction to her and similarly situated nursing students who paid tuition and fees for those experiences. Reynolds asserts common law breach-of-contract, quasicontract, and misrepresentation claims and statutory claims under Oregon's Uniform Trade Practices Act. Concordia has moved to dismiss Reynolds's Complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Concordia's motion will be granted in part and denied in part. Reynolds lacks standing to seek injunctive relief, has not shown a duty of care to support her negligent-misrepresentation claim, and has not plausibly alleged a claim under Oregon's Uniform Trade Practices Act. Reynolds has, however, plausibly alleged claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, promissory estoppel, and reckless misrepresentation.

I[1]

Reynolds is an Oregon citizen and a former Concordia student. Compl. ¶ 27 [ECF No. 1]. Concordia is a Minnesota nonprofit corporation. Id. ¶ 26. Concordia maintains its headquarters (and principal place of business) in St. Paul, Minnesota. Id.

Reynolds enrolled in Concordia's Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (“ABSN”) program on July 7, 2020. Id. ¶ 30. Concordia offers varied (though similar) versions of that program to students through campuses in St. Paul and Portland, Oregon. Id. ¶ 26; see ECF No. 1-2 at 9-10. Reynolds enrolled in a “hybrid” version of the ABSN program offered through Concordia's Portland campus. Compl. ¶¶ 26-28, 30; ECF No. 1-2 at 10.

The ABSN curriculum spans sixteen months and is “comprised of 59 or 60 credit hours received over four consecutive, fulltime semesters”; upon completion, students receive a bachelor's degree in nursing. Compl. ¶ 42. The program's accelerated nature “attracts many students” but also “keeps many students in the program who might otherwise depart; the rapid pace of the studies and the amount of money committed through just one or two semesters is so substantial that students are not able to simply stop their studies in the ABSN program and transfer to another program.” Id. ¶ 43.

In June 2020, before she enrolled, Reynolds attended a “Fall 2020 Virtual Event, ” during which Concordia presented her with a document outlining the Fall 2020 ABSN Curriculum in Portland.” Id. ¶¶ 52-53, 73; see ECF No. 1-9. In this document, Concordia identified various types of “clinical experiences” it would offer to Fall 2020 matriculants. ECF No. 1-9 at 3. The document identified five courses with an “on-site clinical component.” Id. at 4. It also informed prospective students they would “complete 59 credit hours of online didactic coursework, hands-on learning at our high-tech nursing site[, ] and clinical practice at top local health care facilities.” Id. at 3.

When she enrolled in July 2020, Concordia required Reynolds to sign two documents as a condition of her enrollment. First, Reynolds signed a “Registration Authorization Form” that outlined her coursework for the entire ABSN program. Compl. ¶ 51. The form identified the courses Reynolds would complete, the semester she would begin each course, the number of credits per course, and each course's “modalities.” Id.; see ECF No. 1-1. Concordia classified each course's modality as one or a combination of “Didactic, ” “Lab, ” and “Clinical.” ECF No. 1-1. Second, Reynolds was required to sign a “Summer 2020 Student Handbook.” Compl. ¶ 68; see ECF No. 1-2. In that Handbook, Concordia made many statements about clinical, lab simulation, and other in-person experiences it offered (and required students to complete) in the ABSN program. Compl. ¶¶ 45, 69-70, 72; see, e.g., ECF No. 1-2 at 10 (stating Portland Campus Hybrid program includes “hands-on experiential learning” and “real-world clinical practice in local health care facilities”), at 10 (stating Portland Campus-Based program offers “face to face clinical and lab facilitated learning”), at 27-28 (“If clinical/simulation hours are not completed successfully, the student will fail the course and will be required to complete the entire course, on a space available basis[.]), at 36 (outlining “Lab and Simulation Policy”), at 54-63 (providing course descriptions that include “clinical, ” “simulation, ” and “skills lab” components). These statements, and similar statements on Concordia's website, “formed the basis for [Reynolds]'s . . . understanding” of the “nursing simulation and skills laboratories” that Concordia offered through the ABSN program. Compl. ¶¶ 60, 65. “But for the hands-on lab and clinical hospital and field learning experience promised by Concordia, ” Reynolds would not have enrolled. Id. ¶ 29.

Despite these representations, Concordia had, during the preceding Spring 2020 semester, “drastically altered its course offerings” and “completely eliminated in-person learning” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Id. ¶ 66. [S]imulations, skills labs, and clinicals were moved online, or students were given independent study assignments that did not involve real or simulated healthcare environments.” Id.

When Reynolds started the ABSN program in Fall 2020, Concordia continued to represent that clinicals and lab simulations would be offered, including online and in class syllabi, but did not deliver those experiences to Reynolds or other students. During the Fall 2020 Semester, Concordia did not provide “nursing simulation labs, ” “real-world clinical practice in local health care facilities, ” “simulation experiences, ” or “open lab time for supervised practice, ” and it offered only “limited skills lab learning.” Id. ¶ 71.

Reynolds was enrolled in NUP 350 that semester-a course described in her registration form as having lab and clinical modalities. Id. ¶ 30; see ECF No. 1-1. Reynolds paid a $120 lab fee for NUP 350, Compl. ¶ 31 (citing ECF No. 1-4), and, according to the course syllabus, NUP 350 offered “135.75 hours (beyond the didactic hours) including skills lab, simulation, and clinical experience, ” id. ¶ 30 (quoting ECF No. 1-3 at 5). During the semester, however, Reynolds did not receive “any in-person simulations or in-person clinical experiences in any medical settings under the direction of faculty or professionals.” Id. ¶ 32. Though she participated in a “handful of in-person skills labs, she received less than originally promised.” Id.[2]

During the Spring and Summer 2021 semesters, Concordia resumed offering clinicals to ABSN students, but on a more limited basis. Clinicals were offered to a “limited number of students” and “often outside of healthcare settings (e.g., nursing homes and retirement communities).” Id. ¶ 76. Concordia assigned clinicals through a “secret lottery” that it did “not explain[] to students until late in the Summer 2021 [s]emester.” Id.

During the Spring 2021 semester, Reynolds was enrolled in NUP 353-another course Concordia described as having lab and clinical modalities in her registration form. Id. ¶ 33; see ECF No. 1-1. The NUP 353 syllabus represented that it would include “4 clinical credits, ” including a clinical assessment of “Clinical Hours Attendance/Professionalism -81 hours (72 clinical hours and 9 simulation hours).”

Compl. ¶ 33; ECF No. 1-5 at 10. Concordia nonetheless did not provide Reynolds with access to simulation labs during the Spring 2021 Semester. Compl. ¶ 34. And “although she was scheduled to receive 6 in-person clinical sessions in a clinical rehabilitation setting, she only received 3 sessions totaling approximately 24 hours of clinical experience, rather than the 72 hours that were promised.” Id.

The Summer 2021 version of Concordia's Student Handbook, revised in May 2021, included the same or similar representations about clinical, lab, simulation, and other experiences as the Summer 2020 version. See id. ¶¶ 78-79 (collecting statements) (quoting ECF No. 1-6). Reynolds was required to sign the Summer 2021 Handbook as a condition of her enrollment in the Summer 2021 semester. Id. ¶ 80. But that semester, only “some students received in-person simulations” and “only if they did not win the ‘lottery' to receive in-person clinical experiences.” Id. ¶ 77.

For example, Reynolds was enrolled in NUP 410. Id. ¶ 36. NUP 410 was worth 3 clinical credits and its syllabus “estimated that 120 [course] hours would be clinical hours.” Id.; see ECF No. 1-7 at 2, 6. But Reynolds received no “in-person clinical classes or experiences in real-world medical settings under the direction of faculty or professionals.” Compl. ¶ 37. Reynolds also took NUP 411 during the Summer 2021 semester. Id. ¶ 38. NUP 411 was worth 3 clinical credits and, according to its syllabus, would provide students an estimated 25 clinical hours. Id.; see ECF No. 1-8 at 2, 7. Reynolds received a clinical...

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