Can I Sue my University for Violating Chapter 93A?

Q:        I’m a college student, and I believe my university has engaged in unfair and deceptive conduct in its relationship with me and other students.  Can I bring a lawsuit for violation of Chapter 93A?

A:        Generally, the answer is no.  For the Massachusetts consumer protection law (referred to as Chapter 93A) to apply, the entity being sued must have engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices “in the conduct of any trade or commerce.”  A charitable institution, such as a non-profit university, will typically be insulated from Chapter 93A liability if it can show that it was acting in furtherance of its core mission.     

For example, a Massachusetts court recently declined to permit a plaintiff to proceed with a Chapter 93A claim against Stonehill College based on Stonehill’s refusal to refund tuition payments and fees following the closure of its campus during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The court explained that “Stonehill’s decision to reimburse certain charges but not others was part of Stonehill’s larger process of deciding how best to continue educating its students” during a pandemic.      

In certain limited situations, however, a charitable institution may be deemed to have engaged in trade or commerce.  Such circumstances may arise where the institution has inserted itself into the commercial marketplace.

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