California University Systems Sued on Behalf of More Than 700,000 Students for Refusing to Refund Fees in Wake of Coronavirus Pandemic

Apr 28, 2020

California State University and University of California Systems Accused of Inadequate COVID-19 Response in Class Action Lawsuit

LOS ANGELES and OAKLAND, Calif. – April 28, 2020 – The two major California university systems, which serve more than 700,000 students, have profited from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic by refusing to refund unused portions of their campus fees, according to a pair of lawsuits filed today in federal court in California. The class actions, filed against California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC), assert that the universities they oversee should have refunded prorated portions of students’ campus fees after the universities were forced to close their campuses in the wake of the public health crisis. CSU operates 23 campuses throughout the state with an endowment of nearly $2 billion, while the UC system includes 10 campuses and has an endowment of more than $21 billion.

As has become routine nationwide, the CSU and UC systems announced in March that due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, all classes would be moved online for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. Students who lived in on-campus housing were either told they had to move out or were encouraged to do so. Because all coursework was moved online, there was no reason for students to remain on campus if they had other housing available to them, particularly as nearly all services their fees covered were suspended. Most students, therefore, chose to leave campus to be closer to their families, or to avoid potential exposure to COVID-19.

Despite ending all campus activities for at least that same period, CSU and UC have unfairly and unlawfully refused to offer refunds for the unused portion of their mandatory campus fees—a decision that harms hundreds of thousands of students and their families. These fees covered student use of health facilities, health services, instructional related activities, student success fees, student association dues, and the use of student centers, among others. Depending on campus location, fees for the 2019-2020 academic year at CSU ranged from $847 to $4,201, while UC students paid a base student services fee of $1,128, plus additional campus-specific fees, typically totaling an additional $2,000-$4,000. The lawsuits seek disgorgement of the prorated, unused amounts of campus fees that the class members paid.

“While both CSU and UC were initially responsible in closing their campuses, it is improper for them to attempt to retain what amounts to many millions of dollars in aggregate in campus fees they collected from their students, even though they terminated the services that these fees covered,” said Adam Levitt, partner at DiCello Levitt Gutzler, and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “A college education is already a monumental expense for students and their families, and to essentially offer them no relief on these material expenditures, particularly during a time when millions of Americans are struggling financially, is not only tone-deaf but unfair and unlawful. Students’ lives have already been turned upside down by this crisis and the decisions of CSU and UC only serve to exacerbate their pain. 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.”

In March, DiCello Levitt Gutzler, together with Matthew S. Miller LLC, filed the nation’s first lawsuit on these issues against the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University. Since then, they have filed similar class actions against Liberty University over the actions of its president, Jerry Falwell Jr.; and Grand Canyon University, a Phoenix-based private university.

“Thousands of universities and colleges throughout the nation have made fair and appropriate decisions regarding refunds of student fees and room and board payments,” said Miller, co-counsel to the plaintiffs. “We understand that these institutions face their own financial pressures and that this situation is not easy for anyone. But that doesn’t make it right for CSU, UC or any of these schools to pass their losses on to students. Many of these universities have multi-million- or billion-dollar endowments to sustain them. Students and their families do not have the same resources.”

In addition to Levitt and Miller, the plaintiffs are represented by Amy E. Keller and Laura E. Reasons, also of DiCello Levitt Gutzler LLC; and C. Moze Cowper and Noel E. Garcia of Cowper Law PC.

The cases are Akayla Miller v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, in the U.S. District Court of the Central District of California, Western Division, Case No. 2:20-cv-03833; and Claire Brandmeyer v. The Regents of the University of California in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Oakland Division, Case. No. 4:20-cv-02886. A copy of the complaints can be provided upon request and the attorneys are available for media interviews.

About DiCello Levitt

DiCello Levitt combines excellence in commercial litigation, class action litigation, mass tort litigation, catastrophic injury litigation, medical malpractice litigation, and civil rights litigation. Practicing nationwide—and internationally—from offices in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, and St. Louis, we are an aggressive, attentive, and creative plaintiffs’ firm whose work speaks for itself—billions of dollars in recoveries in some of the highest-profile matters in U.S. history. Revered by clients and respected by defense counsel, our team gets results.

About Matthew S. Miller LLC

Matthew S Miller LLC is a litigation boutique founded by Matthew Miller to provide high-caliber, personalized representation for individuals and businesses in all matters of dispute. The firm launched in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic to help people and businesses protect their rights during this crisis. Matt has been practicing law for more than twenty years, having worked in major law firms and at the highest levels inside of public companies, and he has successfully tried cases to verdict, handled appeals and negotiated favorable resolutions for clients in their most important and difficult matters. Trusted by clients and respected by colleagues, Matt is an attorney you want on your side.

About Cowper Law PC

Cowper Law PC is a boutique law firm based in Los Angeles. The firm is comprised of former civil defense attorneys who have worked at Fortune 100 companies and some of the largest defense firms in the country – but decided to switch sides and take on exclusively plaintiff focused complex litigation. The firm and its lawyers have been recognized in the highly regarded Chambers USA and Chambers Global as “exceptional,” “very well respected, particularly among judges” and have also been recognized for their “strong knowledge of technology and e-discovery.” 

Media Contact:

Jason Milch

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