OPINION: Student should be applauded for suing USF

USF billed students during the pandemic for services it didn’t provide, and argues that students are not owed transparency. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

In an Oct. 31 brief, USF officials urged the Florida Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit filed against them, arguing that the case is “of great public importance.”

Doctoral student ValerieMarie Moore filed the complaint with Hillsborough County Court in March 2021. She alleged breach of contract and unjust enrichment after USF billed students for on-campus services they couldn’t receive due to the campus shutdown in response to COVID-19.

Moore didn’t respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

If USF won’t honor the students’ trust, then the institution should be held accountable. Moore is doing her civic duty by defending students against what is essentially theft.

Moore’s suit claims breach of contract, arguing that in billing students for services not provided, USF was breaking an agreement between the university and its enrolled class.

When asked to comment, USF’s Director of Media Relations Althea Johnson said, “It’s the practice of the University of South Florida not to comment on pending litigation.”

In the lawsuit, Moore recognized USF waived some fees from her tuition in summer 2020, like an athletic fee which cost her $10 per semester, a $3 transportation fee per semester and a $20 Marshall Student Center fee per semester with $1.50 per credit hour.

On the other hand, the lawsuit claims that flat fees built into credit hours were not reduced in that semester, or any following. USF was charging students for on-campus services they couldn’t reap full benefits from, as of spring 2021 when the lawsuit was originally filed.

The lawsuit states some of these amenities, such as mental health services, were still available, just remote and limited.

“Some of the university’s facilities continue to be limited or closed for the spring 2021 session; the Wellness Center, for example … is closed as of today’s date,” the lawsuit said.

USF argued in its Oct. 31 brief there was no “express, written contract obligating [USF] to provide her with specific on-campus services.”

Essentially, USF is arguing that because there is no written contract between the university and its students, USF is not obligated to provide them with the services they charge them for. The university is telling the world that, not only can it not be trusted to bill students honestly, but that it should not be held accountable.

It argues that, perhaps, if students want honesty, they should draft a notarized contract before enrolling their freshman year.

In his June 1 ruling against USF’s appeal for sovereign immunity, Second District Court Of Appeals Judge Darryl Casanueva said the terms and conditions portion of the student registration agreement acts as a contract. 

“When the legislature has authorized a state entity to enter into a contract, it clearly intends the contract to be valid and binding on both parties.”

USF is now urging the Florida Supreme Court to hear the case, but up to now has done everything in its power to shut it down. They’ve already filed an appeal of the case in an attempt to silence Moore and prevent the suit from becoming a class action. The university is scared, but attempting to cover its tracks with a disingenuous show of confidence.

Moore isn’t allowing students to be silenced and is standing up to injustice by USF, an institution that has her outnumbered and vastly out-funded. USF should be held accountable for predatory practices during the pandemic. Hopefully, the Florida Supreme Court agrees.