Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for May 5

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Evans v. Brigham Young University

Roscoe Evans registered for winter 2020 semester classes at Brigham Young University. As part of class registration, Evans paid $2,895 in tuition and fees. The payment came from various sources and tuition at BYU ranged from $2,800 to $5,900 per semester for undergraduates and $430 and $860 per credit hour for graduate students. The tuition was the same for in-person or online classes. 

Evans signed a financial responsibility declaration, which stated he accepted full responsibility for paying all tuition, fees and other associated costs. BYU required all enrolled students to sign the FRD for each school year they attended classes. Had Evans not signed the declaration, he couldn’t have registered for classes or used campus services. 

The winter 2020 semester started January 2020 and two months later, the Utah governor declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19. Soon after, in response, BYU moved all in-person classes online and closed multiple campus facilities including health and fitness centers and canceled all in-person events.

Evans alleges that as a result, students couldn’t use the campus facilities and have in-person instruction they expected when they paid tuition for the semester. The university didn’t refund any portion of tuition or fees and continued online instruction through 2020. Evans earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from BYU at the end of the winter 2021 session. 

In response to the switch to online education, Evans brought a class-action lawsuit against BYU for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Evans claimed BYU breached its contract by failing to provide in-person education during the semesters that moved to online classes because of COVID-19. His lawsuit argued that once students paid their tuition and fees they expected in-person and on-campus educational services but didn’t receive the full benefit.

Evans argued BYU was unjustly enriched when it retained all tuition payments. After BYU responded to the complaint, Evans moved for class certification, asking the Utah federal court to certify a class open to all people who paid tuition and/or mandatory fees and had their classes moved to online-only learning. BYU opposed this in part because it couldn’t ascertain the identity of all people who paid tuition because of the variety of sources that pay tuition. 

After a hearing, the court issued a written order denying Evans’ motion for class certification because of the inability to ascertain who paid the tuition. It reasoned BYU records weren’t adequate enough and the court would have to inquire individually to each student. Evans appealed the district court’s order denying the class certification. 

A 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel out of Salt Lake City, Utah, ruled the district court didn’t abuse its discretion when it denied the class certification. The 10th Circuit affirmed the district court’s opinion.

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