The North Carolina Court of Appeals will decide in the coming weeks or months whether students at NC State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can sue their schools for reimbursement of fees. schooling.
A trial judge ruled in June that students can go ahead with a breach of contract claim.
NCSU graduate student Joseph Lannan and UNC-CH undergraduate Landry Kuehn argue their schools should have reimbursed the fees last year after denying students access to services related to these fees.
The lawsuit sets UNC’s two flagship schools apart from the rest of the state’s university system.
“In the fall semester of 2020, despite the pandemic, 14 of the 16 constituent universities continued to live on campus, keeping the campus facilities open,” according to a brief by lawyers for Lannan and Kuehn. However, two universities, North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), have closed their campuses, expelled students (other than athletes) from campus, closed student unions and recreation facilities, canceled all artistic performances and banned access to sporting events. NCSU and UNC-CH had charged fees to students for many activities they closed. “
“Disregarding the constitutional mandate that people have access to the university for free” to the extent possible “, the respondent board of governors refused to reimburse a dime of the millions of dollars hard-earned from students for services that he never provided, ”the brief continued.
“In particular, this is not a case in which the plaintiffs complain about the quality of the education they have received, or even the quality of non-educational services”, according to the brief. “On the contrary, the plaintiffs claim that they paid for specific services and that the defendant’s institutions did not provide those services altogether.”
Among Lannan’s fees at NC State were $ 439 for computer and science labs, $ 407 for student health center, and $ 232 for campus sporting events. Kuehn’s UNC-CH fee included $ 442 for on-campus education technology, $ 201 for student transit, and $ 159 for student union operations.
“Due to the unnecessary closures of the NCSU and UNC-CH campuses, the plaintiffs have been deprived of the use and benefit of all of the above facilities,” according to the student legal file. “Further, because the campuses were essentially locked down, the plaintiffs did not benefit from either the campus bus system or the campus parking for which they had paid a fee.”
“Despite depriving the plaintiffs and tens of thousands of other students of the services, benefits and opportunities they paid for, the defendant refused to reimburse a penny of the tuition fees.”
Lannan and Kuehn argue that paying their fees to schools created an “implicit contract.” Failure to provide services financed by fees amounted to a breach of this contract.
The students also put forward a “Corum claim”. Based on a North Carolina Supreme Court ruling in 1992, such a request would allow students to sue for violating their constitutional rights.
A lower court dismissed the constitutional claim but allowed the breach of contract complaint to go ahead. University lawyers argue before the Court of Appeal that the contractual claims should also be dismissed.
“The plaintiffs’ brief establishes what their real claim is,” according to a response from UNC lawyers. “They are unhappy with the decisions made at UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University about how to teach. They make this point very clear.
“The wisdom of these decisions, however, is not before this Court,” the universities’ brief continues. “Attacks on judgment by the defendant do not support contractual claims. Rather, it is an attempt to address the problems with the “educational processes” used in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this is not a knowable claim in North Carolina. “
A claim that is not “knowable” cannot be heard and decided by a court.
The latest documents in the case, Lannan v. Bd. Of the governors of the Univ. of NC, were filed on December 20. It is not known when the Court of Appeal will decide the case.