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UMN sued for not adequately refunding students

The University of Minnesota is being sued for not adequately reimbursing students who paid mandatory student services fees during the spring 2020 semester.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

Students who were enrolled at the University of Minnesota during the spring 2020 semester began receiving emails earlier this month notifying them of an ongoing class action lawsuit against the University alleging failure to reimburse students the full amount of mandatory fees when students were sent home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students who received the email are members of the class in the lawsuit and are automatically included in the case. Students who wish to opt out of the case must do so before March 27.

In the Comprehensive Student Fee Refund Plan issued in April 2020, students were promised to be reimbursed for 100% of certain charges related to housing, meal plans, transportation and safety, parking and the RecWell fee. Half of what the student services fee would have covered from March 28 through finals would be refunded, according to the plan.

The student services fee goes toward the operation and management of different centers and services on campus available to students. Every student is charged the same fee as part of their tuition whether they use the services, facilities or programs the University offers.

According to the civil complaint, the University only refunded students about 25% of the student services fee. Students are also arguing they should have received reimbursement for additional fees including stadium fees, capital enhancement fees and collegiate fees.

Former University regent Michael Hsu said he advocated for students’ reimbursement for housing during board discussions in April 2020. He said University administrators told him the University was losing money over expenses that were paid through the student services fees. However, Hsu said the University received federal money to continue its operations.

“It’s no surprise they got sued. They must have thought they had a good enough plan to avoid the lawsuit or win the lawsuit,” Hsu said.

In June 2020, Steven Staubus filed the initial lawsuit against the University for not reimbursing him for the student services fees he paid. In December 2020, Patrick Hyatte filed separately, and the two cases were consolidated in 2021 to be put before the same judge.

On Nov. 9, 2022, the case was class certified, which means the Hennepin County Court recognized Staubus and Hyatte as the representatives of more than 60,000 students who paid the mandatory fees during the pandemic and were not fully refunded.

Since the class has been certified and all information for the case has been obtained, the next step in the legal process is to go to trial.

“Our case is about living up to promises; when the campus shut down in spring 2020, students were denied access to facilities, services and programs for which they had pre-paid the University through mandatory fee payments,” Catherine Mitchell, Staubus and Hyatte’s attorney, said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

In a motion of summary judgment, the University argued for the case to be thrown out, which the judge denied in December 2022. The University argued students had no evidence the University promised in-person services in exchange for the mandatory student services fee.

President Joan Gabel and the Board of Regents are unable to comment on the lawsuit.
“It is typical practice for the University not to comment on active litigation,” University Public Relations Director Jake Ricker said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

The trial is set for June 5. Staubus and Hyatte will have to prove the University improperly withheld repayment of student fees.

“We look forward to presenting this case to a jury at trial,” Mitchell said.

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