Grads Sue University for $38 Million

The University of California will pay back $38 million in fees to students in professional programs, after a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled on March 10 that the university had raised fees illegally from 2003 to 2007.

According to evidence presented throughout the case, — Andrea Luquetta et. al v. Regents of the University of California — official university documents, including an online fee guide, stated that fees would not be increased for continuing students at any point throughout their period of enrollment.

The court ruled that these materials constituted a contract, which the university then violated.

“The contract between the plaintiff students and the university included a binding commitment not to raise the professional degree fees for continuing students,” Superior Court Judge John Munter said in a statement.

The ruling applies to nearly 3,000 students who enrolled in UC professional schools — including law, business and medicine — before August 25, 2003.

Four students from schools such as the UCLA School of Law and UCSF School of Medicine contacted law firm Altshuler Berzon LLP in 2007 to take up their case against the university.

Danielle Leonard, who works for the firm, said that while fee increases may be necessary, students must be informed of the possibility of such increases before they go into effect. In this case, students were not notified

“The court concluded that the university had breached its contracts with the students for the price of their education, because the university had promised to keep the amount of the professional degree fee constant for the period of their enrollment, and then violated that promise,” Leonard said.

Over the last several years, the university has raised fees for both undergraduate and graduate students systemwide to account for state budget cuts.

Those affected by the case will receive up to $8,000, an amount that has sharply increased during the time it took to obtain their professional degrees. For example, fees for the Berkeley and UCLA law schools were increased by $5,000 from the 2003-04 academic year to 2004-05.

“The total damages are the overpayment of fees that all the student class members paid,” Leonard said. “If you add up what each student paid in what the court deemed unlawful increases, that adds up to the total amount for the entire class.”

UC attorney Christopher Patti said the university plans to appeal the ruling. He said he believes the online materials did not constitute a contract.

“It’s our belief that the university never made any promise to the students in this group of plaintiffs that their fees would be held constant during their period of enrollment,” Patti said.

Patti said the university did not raise fees illegally.

“There is an annual fee guide that sets out what the fees are for each academic year, and the fee guide that applied to the year these students enrolled never had the language about the fee being maintained constant,” Patti said. “We think that there was no representation to these students that that would be the case.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, on Aug. 25, 2003, the university deleted a statement that promised no fee increases would occur.

In his ruling, Munter followed a precedent set by the 2007 case Kashmiri v. Regents of the University of California. That case was won by students who claimed the university had breached a similar contract by raising its fees.

Following the Kashmiri ruling, the university failed to revise the contract’s wording for new students.

“Students [in both cases] were concerned that the fee increases violated their rights,” Leonard said.

After the Kasmiri case, the UC system was required to pay $42 million to students who had enrolled in professional degree programs in 2002.

To pay off this expense, the university has been charging students in these programs a fee of $60 per year, and may have to instate another fee depending on the March 10 appeal ruling, Patti said.

Despite the precedent, Patti is confident the university will be able to reverse the ruling.

“There won’t be any refunds that go out until the appeal has been decided and only if we do not prevail in the appeal,” Patti said.

UC professional degree students, both resident and nonresident, often pay over $40,000 a year in fees, depending on their program.

Readers can contact Ayelet Bitton at [email protected].

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