Pair of lawsuits against Florida’s most prominent universities to be heard in court

by | Jul 20, 2022

  • A panel of judges on Wednesday will hear a case filed against the University of Florida claiming that students forced into remote learning during the pandemic are entitled to a partial refund of educational fees and expenses 
  • Though the suit does not seek tuition reimbursement, the complaint seeks prorated returns of activity fees, transportation expenses, and athletic fees
  • The University of Florida in November filed an appeal after judge Monica Brasington refused to throw out the case 
  • A similar lawsuit against Florida State University that seeks tuition reimbursement is making its way through the state’s legal system 
  • The two lawsuits could serve as landmark cases regarding breach-of-contract cases during the pandemic 

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal on Wednesday will hear arguments in a prospective class-action complaint asserting that the University of Florida (UF) should return money to students forced to learn remotely due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

After Alachua County Circuit Judge Monica Brasington declined to dismiss the case, the institution in November filed an appeal. It is one of several such lawsuits being litigated in Florida and around the country.

Plaintiff Anthony Rojas is a UF graduate student who paid tuition and fees for the spring and summer semesters of 2020. The complaint requests prorated returns of activity fees, transportation expenses, and athletic fees, but does not pursue tuition reimbursements.

If the case is ultimately certified as a class action, it could affect tens of thousands of students who could not take in-person classes or participate in campus activities as UF tried to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Brasington last year issued a nine-page ruling last month that cleared the way for the university to face a breach-of-contract claim in the case, which is one of the numerous similar lawsuits filed against universities and colleges across the state.

A similar case against Florida State University (FSU) is making its way through the court system, predicated on a similar question of whether the school should refund money to students following campus shutdowns. In the case of shutdown financials, students already paid full tuition and extraneous fees. When lockdowns were implemented, students were forced away from in-person classes and research centers, being required to take online classes without any prorated reimbursement of fees for the semester.

Last Thursday, attorneys for plaintiff Harrison Broer filed a notice seeking the 1st District Court of Appeal to hear the lawsuit against FSU. According to the lawsuit, FSU students are entitled to partial refunds of tuition and fees paid for on-campus programs and services.

FSU is accused of breaching contracts with the plaintiff and other students, but Leon County Circuit Judge J. Layne Smith dismissed the complaint last month, rejecting the breach-of-contract charges.

“Plaintiff and FSU did not enter into an express contract to provide services or in-person instruction from the spring semester in exchange for the payment of student fees. … Similarly, this court finds that plaintiff and FSU did not enter into an express contract to return payment of student fees or tuition under the circumstances pled, or to guarantee in-person instruction or a campus operated free from interruption,” Smith wrote.

With the FSU case set to enter appeals, it could lead the way for similar cases against other universities in the state.


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