Student lawsuit demands tuition refunds from Montana State

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Students at Montana State University have sued the university claiming it broke a contractual agreement with its students when it canceled in-person classes without offering to refund or reduce tuition and fees.

Anthony Cordero, who was an undergraduate student in the Spring 2020 semester, filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in September on behalf of himself and other students who paid tuition for in-person classes that were forced online because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

The lawsuit said Cordero paid about $6,500 for the spring semester and was not provided a pro-rated refund for his in-person classes that were discontinued and moved online, or the mandatory fees he paid after school facilities and events were canceled.

The university said in early March that it would transition to fully online because of health concerns, and did not offer in-person classes again until Aug. 17.

The lawsuit alleges that since the students did not choose to attend an online-only higher education institution, they were deprived of both the education and on-campus experiences they paid for when they chose the Bozeman-based university.

Adrian Miller and Michelle Sullivan of Sullivan Miller Law in Billings are representing Cordero in the suit.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created disruptions in all of our lives; that is not the fault of the students or MSU,” Miller said. “Yet, MSU has unfairly shifted the pandemic’s financial burden to its students, who have paid for benefits that they did not receive.”

Tuition in the spring, including the mandatory fees, was about $3,600 for in-state undergraduate students and about $13,700 for out-of-state undergraduate students, the lawsuit said. Tuition for in-state graduate students was about $12,800 and $18,400 for out-of-state graduate students.

Michael Tompkins of the New York-based firm Leeds Brown Law is also listed as an attorney for the plaintiffs, alongside Sullivan Miller Law firm. Tompkins did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Kalispell-based lawyer Dale Cockrell, who is representing the university, said he was reviewing the lawsuit and expects to file a response toward the end of November. University spokesman Tracy Ellig said the university doesn't comment on pending litigation.