UF shutdown case will be heard at Florida Supreme Court on June 5

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

©2024 The News Service of Florida

With arguments scheduled next month, attorneys for a graduate student urged the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to back a lawsuit about whether the University of Florida should return fees to students because of a campus shutdown early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The potential class-action lawsuit is one of numerous similar cases that were filed in Florida and across the country.

Attorneys for UF 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 2020 shutdown.

In a 22-page brief Wednesday, Rojas’ attorneys said the Supreme Court should overturn the appeals court ruling.

“Reduced to its core, UF’s argument is that it did not have to provide any services in exchange for the fees it charged, because UF allegedly did not specifically put in writing that it would provide services in exchange for those fees,” the brief said. “This argument defies both common sense and Florida law.”

A key issue is whether UF breached a contract with Rojas.

The appeals court’s majority opinion concluded that “assorted documents attached to the complaint do not constitute an express written contract.”

As a result, it 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.

In a January brief, attorneys for the university supported the appeals court’s conclusion about a lack of a contract.

“Petitioner’s (Rojas’) complaint alleges an ‘express’ contract for the payment of fees requiring the university to provide ‘specific on-campus services and resources,’” the UF brief said. “The university does not deny that it must provide ‘educational services’ in exchange for tuition and fees paid, but petitioner does not present any document requiring on-campus services and facilities to be provided in the Spring and Summer 2020 semesters for the fees that were paid. Thus, there is no express, written contract for in-person services and resources as petitioner demands in his complaint.”

The Supreme Court hearing is scheduled for June 5.

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