Florida State University (FSU) is trying to convince a federal judge to reject a lawsuit demanding tuition refunds for students because of the sudden transition to remote learning last year.
The suit filed by FSU law student Harrison Broer is one of many filed against Florida colleges and universities related to COVID-19. The onslaught has prompted state lawmakers to propose legislation that will effectively filter litigation and protect schools from such lawsuits.
Broer’s lawsuit states that students are due partial tuition refunds since FSU breached its contract when it imposed online classes. The suit alleges that demanding refunds is valid since students paid in full expecting in-person learning and services.
“Defendants have instead elected to place the financial burden entirely upon its students by charging them full fees for tuition and other services when the services FSU provided were not the full educational and on-campus opportunities, experiences, and services that plaintiffs and members of the proposed class agreed to and reasonably expected,” the lawsuit said.
FSU Versus Students
The school filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit Friday and denied the existence of such a contract. Legal representatives of the school argued that without a signed contract, FSU is shielded from breach-of-contract claims because of sovereign immunity.
“There is no contract between plaintiff and FSU — let alone an express contract — thereby dictating dismissal of plaintiff’s breach of contract claim based upon sovereign immunity,” the motion said.
The plaintiff responded to this argument by saying that the contract was expressed in a series of steps.
“The scope of the agreement between plaintiff and defendants was formed throughout the application process, admission, enrollment, registration, and payment — including through all the documents and materials shared and agreed to during those processes,” the amended version of Broer’s lawsuit read.
New State Law
In light of recent events, Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation that provides additional protection for state institutions against legal action related to the pandemic.
“The provision of in-person or on-campus education and related services is deemed to have been impossible for educational institutions during any period of time in which such institutions took reasonably necessary actions to protect people on campus,” the bill said.
The new law took effect on July 1, but FSU has not based its motion for dismissal upon the law.