FIU Appeals Court Decision in Pandemic Fees Lawsuit

Via Unsplash

Elise Gregg / Assistant News Director

FIU has a long way to go to reach the end of a lawsuit over student fees paid during the pandemic.

PantherNOW previously reported that the lawsuit, which was filed in April, was classified as a class-action lawsuit in the same order that denied FIU’s motion to dismiss the case. 

Judge William Thomas ruled in favor of the students suing on behalf of the entire 2020 student body after multiple hearings at the trial court level.

However, FIU appealed the decision and the case is currently in the appellate court. 

FIU’s appeal is based on sovereign immunity, according to Howard Bushman, attorney at the Moskowitz Law Firm representing the students.

In short, sovereign immunity, in this case, refers to the fact that FIU is a state entity. As such, there are limitations to the circumstances where FIU could be sued, because sovereign immunity protects the government from being sued in certain cases. 

“They feel strongly that their defenses are meritorious, that they’re protected by sovereign immunity,” said Bushman. “Which means that because they’re the state, they’re an instrumentality of the state of Florida, that they’re protected from suit.” 

However, according to Cornell’s School of Law, if a state actor was performing a proprietary function – in other words, working for itself – it can be sued, as opposed to performing a government function. 

When Judge Thomas William denied FIU’s motion to dismiss it was because he found that FIU gave up sovereign immunity by entering into an express contract with students.

FIU denied having an express contract with students.

However, Bushman argued that if there is no contract, FIU doesn’t have to collect money from students, and can’t penalize them for not paying.

“Typically, FIU will then send people to collections and, go after their credit report, their credit records, and things like that,” Bushman said. “So, obviously, there’s a contract.” 

PantherNOW reached out to Matthew Lee Lines, the attorney representing FIU, by email and phone. Lines said he had no comment on the current case. 

Bushman predicts that the appeal will take more time than the first case of the case.

“30 days is like a day in normal time,” said Bushman. “ We’re not the only case that’s been appealed in the Third District Court of Appeal, which is where we are, so we have to get in line just like everybody else and move forward in that in that way.”

Between brief exchanges, extensions and oral arguments, Bushman said that it may take time to get through the next phase in the case.

Currently, a similar case is also taking place in the Third District Court of Appeal: Verdini v. Miami Dade. The case also involves student fees paid during the pandemic, and the plaintiffs are also represented by the Moskowitz Law Firm. 

“That is the first case that’s already been denied as a motion to dismiss, already been appealed, and already argued, before the Third District Court of Appeal, and we’re waiting on a ruling from there,” said Bushman.

If the Third District Court of Appeals also denies a motion to dismiss, then it’s likely they’ll do the same with FIU’s case.

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