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Lawsuit Over USF’s Pandemic Response Can Proceed, Appeals Court Rules

— June 1, 2022

Earlier this week, an appeals court ruled that a class-action lawsuit against the University of South Florida may proceed.

On Wednesday, an appeals court decided against dismissing a potential class-action lawsuit filed over claims that the University of South Florida (USF) took money from students for on-campus services that were not offered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The complaint against USF is only one of many across the country that stem from the countless early pandemic campus closures.

College lecture hall
College lecture hall; image courtesy of Wokandapix via Pixabay,

The complaint was filed in Hillsborough County on behalf of Moore. At the time, she was attending USF’s College of Education as a doctoral student.

A panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal decided on Wednesday whether USF had broken a contract with ValerieMarie Moore, a student at the university. Prior to the panel’s decision, USF pushed back against the allegations and wanted the case dismissed, citing “sovereign immunity, a legal concept that helps shield government agencies from lawsuits.”

The appeals court maintained a Hillsborough County circuit judge’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuit, but stated that its decision was “without prejudice to USF’s right to raise the defense of sovereign immunity if supported by the facts” in the future. According to the ruling, a significant issue in the case is whether USF and Moore had an “express written contract.”

Written by Judge Darryl Casanueva, the 13-page ruling stated:

“When the state enters into a contract authorized by general law, the defense of sovereign immunity will not shield it from litigation…When the Legislature has authorized a state entity to enter into a contract, it clearly intends that the contract be valid and binding on both parties.”

It added that, “based on language in a registration agreement, Moore entered into a legal, binding contract with USF.” It further noted that USF “argued that, even if such a contract existed, it had not promised to provide specific services in exchange for student fees.”

The ruling said:

“Therefore, it contends, Ms. Moore cannot establish that USF breached a provision of the contract…We conclude that the trial court correctly rejected this argument at this stage of the pleadings.”

Like much of the country, universities across Florida shut its doors in 2020 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. In cases like the USF case, students are complaining about fees they had to pay for campus services, not tuition payments. So far, courts have been split on whether or not universities broke contracts by requiring students to learn remotely in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.


A lawsuit over USF’s response to the pandemic can go forward

A lawsuit over a Florida university’s response to the pandemic can go forward

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