Big Sky Roundup

Cordero to appeal judge’s order in tuition reimbursement case against Montana State University

By: - August 28, 2023 6:43 pm

First day of classes at Montana State University in Bozeman. (Provided by MSU for the Daily Montanan)

The tuition reimbursement lawsuit against Montana State University is headed to the Montana Supreme Court.

A lawyer for an MSU graduate said Monday her client will appeal a Lewis and Clark County District Court order to dismiss allegations the Bozeman flagship owes students money for when it transitioned to remote education during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lawyer Adrian Miller, who represents plaintiff and former MSU student Anthony Cordero, said her client will appeal the recent order on summary judgement in favor of the university as well as an earlier order on a motion to dismiss claims.

In the lawsuit, Cordero argues MSU should reimburse him and other students when it switched from in-person education to remote and online education in order to meet health and safety protocols. Cordero believes all students may be owed at least partial reimbursements, but the judge said that question is moot given the decision in favor of MSU.

The Montana lawsuit didn’t contest that MSU continued to provide an education for students or wanted to keep them safe. However, it argued the cost of offering online courses is “significantly lower” than the overhead needed for providing classes and services in person, and it argued the result was unfair to students and a breach of contract: “MSU has been unjustly enriched by plaintiff’s payment of tuition and fees.”

In an order this month, District Court Judge Mike McMahon found the “disgruntled” student’s argument that MSU pledged to provide an in-person education fell short. He said the school was justified in transitioning in response to the health emergency, and Cordero didn’t meet the deadline to request a refund — prior to the declared health emergency — so the money he paid rightfully belongs to the Montana Board of Regents.

The court earlier didn’t buy the argument that MSU was unjustly enriched by not reimbursing students for switching to remote formats.

Miller, of Sullivan Miller Law in Billings, said students who want to know how the proceedings affect their potential refund may contact the law firm with their questions.

The Montana Supreme Court may uphold the order for summary judgment in favor of MSU or overturn it. Should that order be overturned, a District Court trial would take place.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.