Florida Supreme Court could hear pandemic tuition case

by | Oct 20, 2022

 

  • The University of South Florida is attempting to have a case heard by the state Supreme Court involving a lawsuit against the school over fees collected from students for on-campus services during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns 
  • The lawsuit claims USF breached a contract with a student at the university by wrongfully collecting payments 
  • USF attempted to have the case dismissed earlier this year, but a series of judges denied the motion 
  • In its motion to dismiss, USF argued that the breach of contract claim is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity

The University of South Florida is tapping the state Supreme Court to hear a case involving fees collected from students for on-campus services that were not provided because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to an online docket at the 2nd District Court of Appeal, the institution filed a notice this week as the first step in requesting the Supreme Court to hear the matter.

According to News Service of Florida, the lawsuit, which was initially filed in August 2021, claims that USF breached a contract with ValerieMarie Moore, a student at the university, by wrongfully collecting payments for services that were not available or offered when the school shuttered for the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

“Ms. Moore filed a class action complaint alleging that during all semesters in 2020 and the Spring 2021 semester, USF collected fees for on-campus services that were not offered due to COVID-19,” reads an appellate court document. “She alleged USF has improperly retained funds for services it did not provide, in violation of its express contracts with students which allow it to collect fees only for certain statutorily specified purposes.”

USF attempted to have the case dismissed, but a panel of appeals courts denied such a motion in June.

In its motion to dismiss, USF argued that the breach of contract claim is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. It alleged that the complaint’s assertion that Moore entered into an express written contract with USF is a legal conclusion, which is insufficient to establish a cause of action for breach of contract.

At the hearing, USF argued that it only waives sovereign immunity when it enters into an express, written contract, and if there is a contract, in this case, it is an implied contract.

Notably, USF argued that under the assumption that the registration agreement is an express written contract, it does not set forth a promise by USF to provide any specific services in exchange for student fees.

The appellate court additionally drew attention to the university registration agreement, which states, “By clicking ‘Submit Changes’ below, I am entering a legal, binding contract with USF and I hereby acknowledge that I have read and understand the terms and conditions of this registration agreement.”

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