In Eddlemon v. Bradley University, 65 F.4th 335 (7th Cir. 2023), the Seventh Circuit underscored that evidence, not allegations, control the court’s class certification analysis.
At issue in Eddlemon were claims stemming from Bradley University’s decision to cancel a week of classes in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic without providing a prorated refund of tuition or fees. Consistent with Foley’s litigation predictions and early-pandemic guidance, colleges and universities across the country have faced mounting class action suits based on similar theories of liability.
In this case, a Bradley student sued the school for breach of contract and unjust enrichment on the theory that the school promised him 15 weeks of instruction in exchange for the payment of tuition and a student activity fee but delivered only 14 after it did not reschedule a week of classes cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic. The student sought to represent several classes of peers that he alleged were also shortchanged by Bradley’s retention of their full tuition and fees. The district court ultimately certified two classes — one for those who paid tuition and another for those who paid the activity fee.
On appeal, Bradley successfully attacked the district court’s decision to certify the classes, with the Seventh Circuit agreeing the lower court’s analysis fell short of assuring that Rule 23’s commonality and predominance requirements were met. There are several key takeaways:
The Seventh Circuit’s guideposts are instructive for plaintiff and defense counsel alike. Plaintiff’s counsel cannot punt on addressing the elements of their claims, and the evidence needed to prove those claims, until a motion for summary judgment. Instead, counsel must account for these considerations when arguing for certification. The decision also highlights several tools available to defense counsel when opposing class certification.