Jury to decide if Cal State University should pay back $50 million to students

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

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Jury selection is set to begin Monday in San Francisco Superior Court in a civil suit that seeks to compel the California State University to repay about $50 million in fees that former students say amounted to double billing.

The plaintiffs claim Cal State acted in bad faith when it imposed a fee increase ($336 for most students) in July 2009, after they had already paid their fees for the upcoming fall semester.

"It violated an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing," said Jim Finberg, a lawyer for the students who filed the lawsuit.

"It was a very short notice for students to come up with the money and it caused them hardship in terms of having to work extra hours on jobs or taking additional jobs, or putting money on credit cards," Finberg said.

The lawsuit was filed by former Cal State students Honora Keller, Samantha Adame, Caitlin Seandel, Vivian Kwak, and Xuelian Xie on behalf of about 170,000 2009 Cal State students who paid for the fee increase out of pocket.

Plaintiffs are not challenging Cal State’s legal authority to raise fees; a judge ruled last year that Cal State did not break any laws when it raised the student fee.

Cal State argues its hand was forced by the Great Recession.

Raising fees was the university's "only remaining option" after other measures "proved insufficient to address the massive funding hole" created by recession-driven state budget cuts, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs Laurie Weidner said in a statement.

"Asking students to share in the austerity through limited tuition increases" was necessary "to avoid massive program reductions which would have substantially reduced or eliminated course offerings or closed entire programs," added Weidner.