Donrich Young enrolled in a doctoral program at Grand Canyon University based on his understanding that he could finish the program by taking 60 credit hours. However, he didn't complete his degree in 60 hours and was forced to pay for three additional research-continuation courses.
Young sued Grand Canyon for breach of contract, intentional misrepresentation, and violations of the Arizona Consumer Fraud Act. But Young had signed an arbitration agreement that forced him to arbitrate his claims rather than file a lawsuit.
An Obama-era federal regulation prohibited for-profit colleges from requiring their students to arbitrate their disputes. Grand Canyon argued for a tortured interpretation of this rule, and it convinced a federal judge to buy it. Thus, the court dismissed Young's lawsuit and required him to arbitrate his beef with Grand Canyon.
On appeal, however, the Eleventh Circuit reversed. It began by stating that the regulation was "poorly written." Nevertheless, in the appellate court's view, the regulatory language clearly prohibited Grand Canyon from forcing Young to arbitrate his breach-of-contract and misrepresentation claims.
Indeed, in the Eleventh Circuit's view, "common sense" confirmed that Young's interpretation of the regulation was correct.
We need not dwell on the Eleventh Circuit's analysis of regulatory language. The critical point is this: Obama-era regulations prohibited for-profit schools from enforcing arbitration clauses that bar students from suing for breach-of-contract or misrepresentation.
Unfortunately, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rolled back the Obama rules to allow for-profit schools to force their students to sign arbitration agreements. As David Halperin wrote last July:
Predatory schools love forced arbitration — a secret proceeding with a paid corporate rent-a-judge — and class action bans, because those things make it harder for a ripped off student to obtain a lawyer, afford a legal process, get justice before an impartial decision-maker, and create precedents and expose information that could help future students.
It will be interesting to see whether President Biden will reinstate the ban on arbitration clauses that the Obama administration commendably instituted. Let us hope so because mandatory arbitration has been the chief way that unscrupulous for-profit colleges have protected themselves from being sued by their students for fraud and misrepresentation.
For-Profit Colleges Race To Block Students From Suing Them. Republic Report, Jul 20, 2020. https://www.republicreport.org/2020/for-profit-colleges-race-to-block-students-from-suing-them/.
Young v. Grand Canyon University, 980 F.3d 814 (11th Cir. 2020).