Judge Dismisses Students’ Lawsuit Seeking Refunds From COVID Campus Shutdown

The State Court of Appeals ruled this week that a trial judge was correct in dismissing a lawsuit filed by then-UNC System students seeking refunds for tuition, housing and fees after in-person instruction was canceled in spring 2020 because of COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.

Several students at UNC System campuses, and a parent who paid to enroll her daughter, contend they deserved pro-rated reimbursements because campuses were shut down in March 2020 and instruction was moved online.

After Gov. Roy Cooper ’79 (’82 JD) announced a COVID-19 emergency on March 10, 2020, the General Assembly passed a law giving public and private colleges immunity from pandemic-related legal claims for tuition and fees.

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Donna Stroud said the plaintiffs adequately alleged they had implied contracts with the UNC System for academic and related services; however, she also said the 2020 law was constitutional as it applied to their lawsuit claims.

The 3-0 unanimous decision means the case is barred from moving forward and upholds a June 2021 decision by Superior Court Judge Edwin Wilson Jr., who had sided with the UNC Board of Governors, which was the defendant in the case. In his ruling, Wilson didn’t give his reason for dismissing the case, according to the ruling.

In a separate matter, in an opinion written by Stroud, a Court of Appeals panel ruled that other UNC System students could continue their lawsuit seeking monetary damages for fees they paid before in-person, fall 2020 classes were canceled due to the coronavirus. The immunity law doesn’t apply in the case because the alleged damages happened outside its time limits.

The State Supreme Court has yet to rule on a request by the UNC Board of Governors to hear an appeal in the case regarding fees paid before in-person, fall 2020 classes were canceled.

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