University Of Illinois Sued Over COVID-19 Campus Closures

By Celeste Bott
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Law360 (December 4, 2020, 8:24 PM EST) -- The University of Illinois system has been hit with a lawsuit in Illinois state court alleging it owes refunds to students who paid for access to its facilities, on-campus experiences and in-person instruction but didn't receive it due to coronavirus-related closures and restrictions.

The university system, which has campuses in Champaign, Chicago and Springfield, is the latest in a slew of colleges and universities to face putative class claims seeking refunds of tuition and fees in the wake of the pandemic.

Named plaintiff James Tullman, a New York resident whose daughter was enrolled as a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during the spring and summer 2020 semesters, says in a suit filed Wednesday that beginning in March, the system failed to deliver the services members of the proposed class previously paid for. That conduct amounts to inverse condemnation of property and violations of the takings and due process clauses of both the U.S. and the Illinois constitutions, he says.

The university suspended face-to-face instruction, sent students home, canceled graduation ceremonies and switched some courses to "pass/no pass" grading in response to COVID-19, according to Tullman's complaint.

"Despite defendants' cancellation of live in-person instruction, its eviction of students from campus facilities for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester, and the cancellation of all campus activities, defendants have not offered adequate refunds or restitution of tuition, room and board, and fees paid to cover the cost of on-campus services that were no longer provided to students," Tullman said.

In addition to tuition, students were charged more than $4,000 in fees for the fall 2019-spring 2020 school year by the university's own estimation, he says.

The tuition and fees are higher than they would be at online institutions because they cover not just academic instruction but a more comprehensive campus experience, Tullman says, which includes interactions with processors and peers, access to libraries and computer labs, sporting events, networking opportunities and extracurriculars.

And that money hasn't been refunded despite the university system reportedly receiving more than $63 million in assistance through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, according to the lawsuit.

Tullman is seeking to represent two classes: a class of all people who paid tuition and fees for or on behalf of students and a class of those who paid room and board expenses, which can include housing, or meals or both.

Representatives of the parties could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

The putative class is represented by Katrina Carroll, Kyle A. Shamberg, Nicholas R. Lange, Edward Ciolko and Nicholas Colella of Carlson Lynch LLP and Jeffrey K. Brown, Michael A. Tompkins and Brett R. Cohen of Leeds Brown Law PC.

Counsel information for the University of Illinois system could not be immediately determined on Friday.

The case is Tullman et al. v. The University of Illinois System et al., case number 2020CH07046, in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.

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