Court rules in favor of UC Board of Regents on COVID-19 refunds

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UC students Noah Ritter and Claire Brandmeyer filed separate lawsuits against the UC Board of Regents for withholding campus fee refunds amid closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Two proposed class-action lawsuits from students against the UC Board of Regents were dismissed with prejudice Tuesday.

UC students Noah Ritter and Claire Brandmeyer filed separate lawsuits against the regents for withholding campus fee refunds amid closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim ruled that the 11th Amendment, which prohibits some lawsuits against states from being heard in federal court, granted the regents qualified immunity, according to an article from Law360.

“The University of California is pleased Magistrate Judge Kim agrees that the UC Board of Regents and former President Napolitano are immune from suit in federal court, and that this litigation rightly belongs in state court,” said UC Office of the President spokesperson Claire Doan in an email.

The regents, in their motion to dismiss, argued that as an “arm of the State of California,” confirmed by both the Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit, they are “immune from suit in federal court.”

The lawsuits filed by the students claim that students should be reimbursed by the regents for campus services and fees not received during the pandemic. Brandmeyer’s complaint alleged that as the university has not offered any refunds for unavailable services, it is “in essence, profiting from this pandemic.”

“While closing campuses and transitioning to online classes was the right thing for Defendant to do, this decision deprived Plaintiff and the other members of the Class from recognizing the benefits of in-person instruction, access to campus facilities, student activities, and other benefits and services in exchange for which they had already paid fees and tuition,” Ritter’s complaint states.

Though the Law360 article stated that Kim expressed sympathy for the students, she ultimately decided that ruling in their favor would render the 11th Amendment “without meaning,” as it would signify that anyone could file suit against the government if unsatisfied with its services.

Plaintiffs Akayla Miller and Helen Rifat — both individually and on behalf of others in similar situations — issued a response Thursday to the defendant’s notice of recent decision.

In the response, the plaintiffs argued that the weight of the decision of the Brandmeyer case should be limited by the court, as it allegedly featured “several clearly erroneous statements of law.”

An appeal is likely, but Kim’s office said in an email that she cannot comment on ongoing proceedings due to judicial ethics rules.

Contact Lauren Good at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @lgooddailycal.