FIU Students Sue University for Pandemic Fees

Cartoon of FIU students demanding refunds for pandemic fees. Guido Gonzalez / PantherNOW

Elise Gregg / Staff Writer

FIU students are back on campus with a new semester, new classes and a lawsuit against the university seeking reimbursement for services they couldn’t access in 2020. 

The lawsuit, which was filed by two students last April, seeks refunds for fees paid during the pandemic for services that students couldn’t use like transportation, parking and athletic facilities. 

Although FIU filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in August, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge William Thomas refused to do so on Dec. 30 and certified it as a class-action lawsuit.

“We’re very pleased with Judge Thomas’s order,” said Howard Bushman, partner at The Moskowitz Law Firm representing FIU students in the case. “The school shut down, and students weren’t provided the services to which these fees were supposed to provide.”

This week, FIU appealed the decision. If the university’s appeal is unsuccessful, the case will either go to settlement or trial.

The lawsuit intends to regain over $10 million collected in service fees from FIU students during 2020.

“We’re seeking the return of the fees charged to students that students paid during the 2020 school year,” said Bushman. “A portion of the fees for spring 2020, all the fees for summer 2020, and fees for fall 2020 services that the students were not provided.” 

FIU transitioned to online learning in March 2020. University campuses closed, all classes were taught online and services became largely unavailable. 

Students couldn’t ride university buses, access FIU health services or go to the gym. 

However, FIU continued charging these fees when they transitioned into distance learning in March 2020 and throughout that summer. 

“Plaintiffs and Class members no longer had access to, nor received any benefits from, the services and facilities for which they paid with their fees,” Thomas states in the order.

The judge’s order also states that while the campus partially re-opened in Fall 2020, services were still limited. 

Charges for services can easily add up to hundreds of dollars per semester. Even athletic, health and transportation fees alone can add up to nearly $200 a semester. 

Breakdown of student fees charged in 2021. Valentina Palm / PantherNOW. 

“Who should bear the brunt of those costs?” Bushman told PantherNOW. “It’s our position that the students and families should not be burdened with these costs and they could use the money more than the school.” 

Students who didn’t pay service fees were at risk of academic suspension, not being able to access transcripts and additional fees.

If the student plaintiffs succeed, the class action lawsuit will benefit all individuals who were enrolled in FIU during 2020.

“[If] judgment is entered, or settlement is accomplished, everybody will receive their pro-rata amounts,” said Bushman. 

Thomas’ order states that compensation will be based on the value of fees the university received and didn’t spend on student services.

Representing FIU students is attorney Adam Moskowitz, who is also representing students at 11 other Florida public universities who are in separate, but similar class-action lawsuits.

FIU is represented by attorney Matthew Lee Lines, who was unavailable for comment. 

According to law.com, this is the first litigated tuition reimbursement case in the U.S. and could be worth more than $100 million for eligible Florida students.