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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Florida university students sue for spring-semester refund

Posted By on Tue, May 12, 2020 at 6:27 PM

click to enlarge The Century Tower at the University of Florida - PHOTO VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Photo via Wikimedia Commons
  • The Century Tower at the University of Florida

With the coronavirus shutting down state university campuses in March, at least two potential class-action lawsuits have been filed seeking refunds of money that students paid for the spring semester.

A federal lawsuit filed Monday against the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees alleges that named plaintiff Dylan Egleston and other spring UF students are entitled to reimbursement of tuition and fees because they were forced to take classes online for part of the semester.

That came a week after a UF graduate student filed a lawsuit in Leon County circuit court contending that he and students from throughout the broader university system should receive refunds of fees.

The lawsuit filed Monday on behalf of Egleston alleges breach of contract and “unjust enrichment” by UF. It said Egleston enrolled at the Gainesville-based school “to earn a degree that included the service of taking courses at the campus with live teacher interaction.”

“Plaintiff and the putative class members contracted with defendant for certain services and paid for those services in the form of tuition and other fees,” the lawsuit said. “As a result of limitations defendant has imposed, defendant has not delivered the services that plaintiff and the putative class contracted and paid for. As a result, plaintiff and the putative class are entitled to a refund on tuition and fees paid for services, facilities, access and/or opportunities not delivered.”

Universities shifted to online learning after campuses were closed in March to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus. The situation forced massive changes for students, faculty members and administrators, with plans for on-campus instruction in the fall semester still uncertain.

“These are extraordinary and uncertain times,” UF President Kent Fuchs said in a March 11 announcement about classes moving online. “I share everyone’s concerns and understand how unsettling and disruptive these measures are.”

UF quickly made plans to issue prorated refunds of housing and dining payments. But the lawsuits contend it and the broader university system should have gone further in refunding money.

The lawsuit filed last week in Leon County circuit court by named plaintiff Anthony Rojas seeks class-action status on behalf of students at all 12 state universities. It was filed against the state university system’s Board of Governors and seeks refunds of prorated amounts of fees such as technology fees, activities and services fees, athletic fees and transportation fees.

“FBOG (the Florida Board of Governors’) decision to transition to online classes and to request and to encourage students to leave campus were responsible decisions to make, but it is unfair and unlawful for FBOG to retain fees and to pass the losses on to the students and their families,” the lawsuit said.

While making similar claims of breach of contract and unjust enrichment as the Egleston case, the Rojas lawsuit differs because it does not seek tuition refunds.

“Plaintiff’s claims relate solely to fees paid by Florida residents for on-campus services and do not concern fees or costs for tuition and/or room and board because students were able to complete their courses and obtain their credits for the spring semester and because the universities have offered appropriate refunds relating to room and board, but not as to fees,” the Rojas lawsuit said.

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