Florida Supreme Court may hear oral arguments on UF lockdown case

By: - November 2, 2023 4:51 pm

Pugh Hall at UF hosts the Bob Graham Center, among other programs. Credit: Spohpatuf via Wikimedia Commons

A class action lawsuit about whether or not the University of Florida can be sued for charging students for on-campus services during the COVID-19 lockdowns may see oral arguments in the Florida Supreme Court.

The attorneys for Anthony Rojas, a UF alumnus, filed a Request for Oral Argument motion to the Florida Supreme Court on Nov. 1 for a case that could decide whether or not students who enrolled at UF at the time would be eligible to recoup potentially hundreds of dollars in fees they paid.

Rojas v. The University of Florida Board of Trustees has worked through the state judicial system since it was first filed at the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Alachua County in April 2021.

In the lawsuit, Rojas, a UF alumnus, alleges the university charged him for services it did not provide during the spring and summer 2020 semesters – when UF shut down on-campus activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UF’s fees for activities and services, athletics, transportation and health amounted to $46.21 per credit hour during the 2019-2020 school year.

Howard Bushman, a partner with The Moskowitz Law Firm who is litigating for Rojas, said he expects UF’s legal counsel to respond in early 2024.

UF has maintained that it is protected under the sovereign immunity clause of the Florida Constitution, which stipulates a government entity cannot be sued without its consent. Alachua County Circuit Court Judge Monica Brasington denied UF’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in Oct. 2022 and found UF’s Financial Liability Agreement with its students constitutes an “express, written contract.”

“When a governmental entity enters into an express, written contract that is authorized by the powers granted to it by the Legislature, it waives its sovereign immunity,” Brasington wrote in her decision.

For Bushman, the agreement is the crux of the case. If the university can seek penalties against students who don’t pay fees, then students should be able to seek penalties if UF cannot provide the services they pay for, he argued.

“If the student didn’t pay, they’d be sent to collections or have lawsuits brought against them or be taken out of their classes,” Bushman said. “There are consequences if the students don’t pay, so there have to be consequences when the university does not provide the service.”

Brasington did not rule on whether or not UF violated the financial liability agreement, only that the university was eligible to be sued. However, her decision was overruled by Florida’s First District Court of Appeal in May of 2022 by a 2-1 decision when UF appealed.

Rojas’ counsel appealed, and now the Florida Supreme Court will decide whether or not the case will go back to a trial court.

A UF spokesperson said the university does not comment on pending litigation.

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Christian Casale
Christian Casale

Christian covers education, politics, and whatever else interests him for the Florida Phoenix. He has previously worked as a reporter and editor with the Independent Florida Alligator.