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Court allows students to sue for reimbursement for campus services not delivered during pandemic

By Mark Bergin

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    NORTH CAROLINA (WRAL) — A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill student and a student from North Carolina State University can continue a lawsuit against the University of North Carolina system over fees they paid for on-campus services not available during the pandemic, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The lawsuit claims students who registered for the fall 2020 semester should receive refunds on fees for campus-based services that they could not use when in-person classes were canceled due to COVID-19.

North Carolina Court of Appeals judges affirmed a superior court judge’s decision in 2021 to deny the UNC system’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill undergraduate student Landry Kuehn and NC State University graduate student Joseph Lannan sued the UNC system Board of Governors in 2021 for breach of contract. The suit came after they paid fees for items like health services, campus security and parking permits. The items were unavailable after campuses shut down for the fall 2020 semester.

The students are attempting to recover what they paid to the universities for the services. Lannan and Kuehn each seek more than $1,000. They also requested the complaint move forward as a class-action lawsuit, which would allow other students to recover damages from similar fees they paid during the fall 2020 semester.

The UNC system argued that the case should be dismissed on the grounds of sovereign immunity. It is a legal concept that helps protect governments from litigation.

In the written opinion, Court of Appeals Chief Judge Donna Stroud said that the trial court “properly denied” the UNC system’s sovereign immunity claims.

“In more general terms, plaintiffs allege they paid for a service and then the other party to the alleged contract did not allow them to access that service,” Stroud wrote. “Taking the alleged facts as true, as we must at this stage … plaintiffs have properly alleged breach.”

The lawsuit can now move forward at the Superior Court level. Also, the UNC system could appeal the opinion and ask the North Carolina Supreme Court to consider the case.

In April 2020, an East Carolina University student filed a class-action lawsuit against the University of North Carolina system, claiming that the closing of campuses and transition to online instruction in response to the coronavirus outbreak deprived students of in-person instruction, face-to-face time with professors and campus facilities, which they pay for.

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