Student sues university over on-campus fees during COVID

In the lawsuit, the leading plaintiff, Valerie Marie Moore, charges that the University of South Florida failed to reimburse students for mandatory on-campus fees after classes were moved online due to the pandemic.

The Second District Court of Appeals in Florida has ruled that the class-action lawsuit may continue.

The Second District Court of Appeals in Florida has ruled that a class-action lawsuit brought against the University of South Florida (USF) may continue. 

A USF student filed the suit when the university allegedly failed to reimburse students for mandatory on-campus fees after classes were moved online due to the pandemic.

In the lawsuit, the leading plaintiff, Valerie Marie Moore, charges that "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."

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USF student Juan Echeverry told Campus Reform, “If USF is forcing students to take distance learning with no possibility of in-person classes, which can be at least $150 cheaper per class than its online alternative, there is no reason why the students should be paying that extra $150 bucks, especially during a pandemic." 

A central issue in the litigation is whether or not the doctrine of sovereign immunity, according to which federal and state governments are immune to certain kinds of lawsuits, applies in a case where an “express written contract” exists between a state-actor, such as USF, and a plaintiff, the student. 

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On this point, citing previous court precedent, Florida’s Second District appellate court argued that “[w]hen the legislature has authorized a state entity to enter into a contract, it clearly intends that the contract be valid and binding on both parties.” 

Because USF satisfied this requirement, according to the court, it cannot avoid being held responsible via the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

Similar litigation has been brought against other Florida universities, arguing that the schools failed to uphold their responsibilities to students after implementing COVID-related measures.

USF did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.