Calif. University System Looks To Ax COVID-19 Refund Suit

By Julia Arciga
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Law360 (July 28, 2020, 8:02 PM EDT) -- California State University schools asked a federal judge to toss a proposed class action on Monday that alleged it withheld campus fee refunds in the wake of COVID-19-related campus closures, arguing that the case didn't belong in court.

The CSU Board of Trustees and its chancellor, Timothy White, said the California federal court should dismiss Akayla Miller's lawsuit over the school system's withholding of mandatory fees — separate from tuition costs — because the court had no jurisdiction over the case.

According to the filing, the university system was immune from the lawsuit under the Eleventh Amendment because it is an entity of the state rather than a "person." The board and White also said Miller's property right claims regarding the fees fell under the board's statutory authority, not common law.

The statutes do not create property interest, the filing read, and Miller therefore had no property right to the fees she paid. Property rights for such agreements with government entities could lead to a huge number of lawsuits, the board and White claimed.

"If allowed, Plaintiff's new claims would convert every contract dispute with a government entity into a due process or takings case," the filing read. "That is not the law."

The filing also said Miller's allegations were meritless because she voluntarily paid the fees for her enrollment at a CSU campus. No case held that a voluntary payment in exchange for a benefit constituted a seizure by the government, the board and White claimed.

"[The] retention of funds voluntarily paid is not a seizure and thus not a taking, and because general governmental action to stop a pandemic is not a taking, either," the filing read.

Additionally, the board and White said Miller failed to follow a "mandatory procedure to seek refunds," as outlined by governing regulations, prior to filing her lawsuit. This made her claims "unripe," they said.

Miller filed her complaint against the board and White in April, claiming that the CSU system profited from the coronavirus pandemic by refusing to reimburse students for fees they paid for services they are no longer receiving as the pandemic continues. Fees ranged from $847 to $4,201, according to Miller's first complaint.

She filed an amended complaint earlier this month, adding due process and takings claims to her initial breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and conversion claims.

Counsel for the board and White declined to comment further on Monday. Counsel for Miller did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The board and White are represented by Daralyn J. Durie, David Mcgowan, Jessica E. Lanier, Catherine Y. Kim, Michael J. Proctor, and Andrew Esbenshade of Durie Tangri LLP; and Susan Westover, William Hsu, Brian Villarreal. and Michael T. Tam of the California State University Office of General Counsel.

Miller is represented by C. Moze Cowper and Noel E. Garcia of Cowper Law PC; Adam J. Levitt and Laura E. Reasons of Dicello Levitt Gutzler LLC; and Matthew S. Miller of Matthew S. Miller LLC.

The case is Akayla Miller v. Board of Trustees of The California State University, case number 2:20-cv-03833 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

--Additional reporting by Hailey Konnath. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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Case Information

Case Title

Akayla Miller v. Board of Trustees of The California State University


Case Number

2:20-cv-03833

Court

California Central

Nature of Suit

Contract: Other

Judge

Stephen V. Wilson

Date Filed

April 27, 2020

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