Dismissal of Class Action vs. Shuttered College Affirmed: Melanie Conroy Quoted in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

Excerpted from the April 9, 2020 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly

After Mount Ida College suddenly closed after its spring commencement in 2018, it sold its campus to University of Massachusetts-Amherst and made plans to transfer students to UMass-Dartmouth, even though the Dartmouth campus did not offer all the same academic programs. In Squeri, et al. v. Mount Ida College, et al., a group of former Mt. Ida students filed a class action accusing the school of breaching its fiduciary duty to the students, after it had apparently assured current and prospective students of its fiscal stability while concealing its financial distress.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns found that the college had no such fiduciary duty to the students under Massachusetts law and dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which affirmed the decision stating, ““Massachusetts courts have repeatedly stated that the relationship between an institution of higher education and its students is generally not a fiduciary one.”

The 1st Circuit also upheld Stearns’ dismissal of the plaintiffs’ contract, misrepresentation, and Chapter 93A claims, as well as a claim that Mount Ida breached student privacy by sharing, without the students’ consent, their financial and academic records with another school to which Mount Ida was trying to facilitate transfer

Pierce Atwood litigation counsel Melanie A. Conroy noted the significance of the court finding that failure to obtain student consent for a disclosure “does not establish an actionable privacy violation as long as there is a legitimate, legally sanctioned purpose for the disclosure.”

Melanie added, “The transfer of financial and academic information, specifically authorized by Massachusetts law that permits a closing institution to preserve student records, constituted such a purpose. This is important guidance for litigants going forward as the risk of data privacy class-action litigation continues to increase for organizations across all industries.”

The complete article can be found in the April 9, 2020 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly