The lawsuit was originally filed by an Ohio State University student who claims that the school violated its contract by forcing students to take online courses amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit alleging that public universities must reimburse students who were forced to take online classes after college campuses closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio State University student Brooke Smith filed the lawsuit in 2022, arguing that students should have been charged a lower tuition rate for the time that remote classes were mandated.
“I understand the need to take these steps and OSU tried to make the best out of an incredibly difficult situation,” Smith wrote in a guest article published on the Dispatch’s website. “However, there is no question that the experience my classmates and I received during that semester was nowhere near what we expected based on the promises made by OSU when we enrolled – nor was it what we had paid for.”
NBC-4 notes that Smith’s lawsuit alleges that the contract undergraduate students sign with public universities guarantees access to certain facilities, including physical college campuses and in-person instruction.
Smith states that, when Ohio State University made its decision to move courses online, it should have reimbursed students who had paid for offline classes.
“The course of dealing between OSU and its students, as well as the way that OSU markets itself to prospective students, leaves little doubt that access to these services was an indispensable part of the bargain between the school and students who paid the costs of attendance,” attorneys for Smith wrote in a brief submitted to the state supreme court.
However, NBC-4 reports that the Ohio Supreme Court has not been asked to determine whether Smith’s claims are valid.
Instead, the justices will establish whether the Ohio Court of Claims—where the case was originally filed—even has jurisdiction over Smith’s case.
Ohio State University has thus far argued that it is entitled to discretionary function immunity, which affords government officials and institutions immunity from certain civil claims.
In its own brief, attorneys for the school observed that there about 10 other similar cases being heard in Ohio courts.
While Ohio State University successfully petitioned a court of appeals to block class action certification in Smith’s claim, that court made no ruling on the school’s alleged entitlement to discretionary function immunity.
Should the Supreme Court find that the Ohio Court of Claims does not have jurisdiction over Smith’s claim, it could have far-reaching repercussions, potentially saving the state the expense of litigating similar lawsuits.
“The hard decisions that OSU and other Ohio public universities made in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic are clearly discretionary function decisions and worthy of that jurisdictional protection in the once-in-a-lifetime circumstances that exist here,” Ohio State wrote in its brief.
“This expansive holding by the Court of Appeals would also apply with equal force and effect to all other key decisions by State officials and instrumentalities who were forced to adjust quickly to COVID-19’s crippling impact,” Ohio State’s merit brief stated.
Smith and her attorneys, however, contend that the only impact the appeals court’s decision will have is forcing Ohio State University to establish its immunity in an Ohio claims court.