USF attorneys file brief to request that pandemic tuition case is heard by state Supreme Court

by | Nov 1, 2022

 

  • The University of South Florida requested on Monday that the state Supreme Court hear a case contending that it breached a contract with a student 
  • The filed lawsuit alleges that the university broke the terms of a registration agreement by collecting fees for campus services and activities while that campus was closed during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • USF attempted to have the case dismissed in June but was denied by a panel of appeals courts 
  • The university also argues that the breach of contract claim is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity

The University of South Florida (USF) implored the Florida Supreme Court on Monday to hear a case contending that the university breached a contract by collecting fees from students for services that were not provided due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to News Service of Florida.

The lawsuit, initially filed last August, 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.

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

The newly filed brief now contends that Moore did not identify an “express, written contract obligating petitioner (the university) to provide her with specific on-campus services,” News Service of Florida reports.

The brief additionally cites a ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal that dismissed a similar case involving Miami Dade College.

“This is not the only case arising from a Florida public university’s alleged failure to provide on-campus services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will not be the last,” the brief reads. “Moreover, the question [of] whether Florida public colleges are entitled to the protection of sovereign immunity in breach-of-contract actions is one of great public importance because the issue has been — and undoubtedly will continue to be — a central issue in numerous cases brought against public colleges and universities in Florida.”

USF maintained in its motion to dismiss that the breach of contract claim is limited by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, citing a similar decision that resulted in the dismissal of the Miami Dade College case.

Lawyers for the university asserted that Moore’s claim that she entered into an express written contract with USF is a legal conclusion, which is not a cause of action for breach of contract.

At the hearing, USF also argued that it only waives sovereign immunity when it enters into an express, written contract and that if there is a contract for tuition fees and provided services, it is one of inference rather than tangible documentation.

Notably, USF argued that, even if the registration agreement is interpreted as a written contract, it does not contain a guarantee by the institution to deliver any specified services in return for student fees.

The appellate court 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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