On April 27, 2020, two similar proposed class action claims were filed in California federal court against The Regents of the University of California and the Board of Trustees of California State University in the Northern and Central District Courts of California, respectively. The suits allege that the defendants failed to return fees to students that were paid to the educational institutions for services no longer offered due to the shutdown of campuses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the suit against California State University (“CSU”), plaintiff Akayla Miller argues that despite moving all classes to an online format and suspending all athletic events and activities, CSU has refused to offer students a refund for unused portions of their campus fees. Campus fees, the complaint asserts, are paid to cover the cost of on-campus services including health facilities, the student association and the student center. By denying students a refund, the plaintiff argues that the defendant is allegedly profiting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similarly, named plaintiff Claire Brandmeyer, alleges in her lawsuit against The Regents of the University of California, that by mid-March 2020, with the COVID-19 virus rapidly spreading across the United States, the University of California implemented online learning and encouraged students to leave its campuses unless they had no alternative living situation. In the complaint, Brandmeyer alleges that the defendant essentially evicted students from campuses and suspended all campus activities. However, rather than offer students a refund for the unused portion of their campus fees due to the shutdown, the defendant blatantly refused reimbursement requests from students and their families. Plaintiff argues that the defendant improperly retained fees for services that are no longer available to students and is therefore profiting from the shutdown.
Both suits allege that students have paid between $800 and $4,200 in fees for the 2019-2020 academic year. Miller seeks to represent a class made up of all students who paid fees for or on behalf of themselves or other students enrolled in classes at any CSU campus for the Spring 2020 semester. Brandmeyer seeks to represent a class made up of all people who paid for or on behalf of themselves or other students enrolled in classes at any University of California campus for the Spring 2020 semester. Between the two class action suits, there could be a combined class comprised up of around 700,000 students.
One of the attorneys for the class representatives, Moze Cowper, stated “We hope to achieve the goals the students wanted but the schools would not do on their own: ensure that the schools stop charging fees for services no longer available and return funds they are holding onto for services that have not been provided. That money belongs to the students. Through these lawsuits, we encourage CSU and UC to reconsider their positions and make more fair, legal, and empathetic decisions for their students and their families.”
The cases are: Akayla Miller v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, Case No.: 2:20-cv-03833, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California; and Claire Brandmeyer v. The Regents of the University of California, Case No.: 4:20-cv-02886, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
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