Florida Supreme Court arguments are set in the UF shutdown case

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University of Florida, Gainesville, at dawn. By Seán Kinane/WMNF News (Apr. 2023).

©2024 The News Service of Florida

The state Supreme Court will hear arguments on June 5 in a dispute about whether the University of Florida should return fees to students because of a campus shutdown early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The court Tuesday issued an order scheduling the arguments in the case, which is one of a series of similar class-action lawsuits filed against colleges and universities in the state.

Attorneys for University of Florida graduate student Anthony Rojas went to the Supreme Court last year after a divided panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said an Alachua County circuit judge should have dismissed the lawsuit, which seeks refunds of fees paid for transportation, health-care and athletics services that were not provided because of the shutdown.

A key issue in the lawsuit — and others like it — is whether the university breached a contract with Rojas when it did not provide services linked to the fees.

The 1st District Court of Appeal’s majority opinion said “assorted documents attached to the complaint do not constitute an express written contract.”

As a result, the opinion said UF is shielded by sovereign immunity, a legal concept that generally protects government agencies from liability.

Under sovereign immunity, agencies can face breach-of-contract lawsuits if it is shown that contracts have been violated.

Campuses throughout Florida and the nation were temporarily shut down in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, with students forced to learn remotely.

The UF case deals only with fees and not tuition.

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