The University of California system overcharged 35,000 graduate and undergraduate students $33.8 million in fees four years ago, a state appeals court has ruled.
The San Francisco-based appeals court determined Friday that the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses broke promises to freeze fees at the amount the students paid when they first enrolled.
Classes had already begun when UC raised fees in 2003 because of deep midyear budget cuts.
With interest, the university owes nearly $40 million.
The university is considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court, a spokesman said.
The ruling upholds a decision last year by a San Francisco judge. If the university doesn’t appeal, the case returns to the lower court to distribute the money.
The refunds could be a few hundred dollars to most students, but more than $10,000 for some students at professional schools, said Andrew Freeman, a lawyer for the students.
Fees for some professional students more than doubled in two years, from $6,000 to more than $14,000.
Freeman said the county judge also prevented the university from charging more than 9,000 students at law, medical and other graduate programs an additional $20 million in fees.
He said the appeals court decision could also influence a separate pending lawsuit by about 2,700 graduate students who were charged higher fees in 2004 despite similar promises from the university. That could cost the university $15 million to $20 million in refunds, Freeman estimated.
University spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said students were given adequate notice that fees could be raised despite the no-increase pledge. The promise has since been dropped from UC Web sites and catalogues.
The lead plaintiff, Mohammad Kashmiri, who graduated from UC Berkeley’s law school in 2004, said the refunds would be welcomed as he and other students struggle to pay off student loans.
“The university was acting like they were above the law,” said Kashmiri, who is now a labor union representative in Oakland.
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