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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

UF appeals class action lawsuit for Spring and Summer 2020 fee refund

The Florida First District Court of Appeals will decide whether UF may be sued for charging students fees while COVID-19 closed campus

A former student’s lawsuit arguing UF violated its contract when it required the student body to pay for on-campus amenities despite COVID-19 restrictions will see the Florida First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee July 20.

Anthony Rojas, a UF alumnus, filed the class action lawsuit in Alachua County April 2021. 

UF did not provide contracted services like transportation, athletics, activities and health care, and access to bus routes around campus was heavily reduced or shut down when UF moved classes online March 2020 per the Florida Board of Governors instructions, according to the lawsuit. The unavailable services cost students $46.21 per credit hour.

Alachua County Circuit Court Judge Monica Brasington’s decision to not dismiss the case prompted UF to file an appeal. The university asked the judge to dismiss the charges based on a claim to sovereign immunity, a doctrine stating a government entity cannot be sued without its consent, but Brasington said Rojas’ class schedules, tuition invoice and UF’s Financial Liability Agreement proved there was a contract for UF to provide services for those fees. 

“When a governmental entity enters into an express, written contract that is authorized by the powers granted to it by the [Florida] Legislature, it waives its sovereign immunity,” Brasington wrote Oct. 18, 2021 in a court document referring to a previous Florida Supreme Court case decision in Pan-Am Tobacco Corp. v. Dep’t of Corr.

Brasington did not rule whether UF breached the contract, only that it could be sued for potentially doing so. 

All three judges assigned to the case have ties to UF; two are graduates and Judge Scott Makar is an adjunct professor at UF’s Levin College of Law. Makar disclosed his position to all parties May 17 and said he didn’t believe it was a basis for recusal. Neither party raised an objection to Makar sitting on the panel. 

Similar cases asked the University of South Florida, Miami-Dade College and Florida State University to pay back fees charged to students; Florida’s district courts have come to different decisions concerning whether cases like this should be considered.

UF administration discussed reducing fees in 2020, but the idea did not come to fruition despite President Kent Fuchs and Provost Joe Glover’s approval; the difference would have been eight cents per credit hour.

Contact Sandra McDonald at Follow her on Twitter @sn_mcdonald.

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Sandra McDonald

Sandra McDonald is a third-year journalism major and the Student Government reporter for the University Desk. This is her first semester at the Alligator. When she's not reporting, she's probably reading fantasy novels and listening to Taylor Swift.

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