The University of California must refund about $38 million to professional degree students who were illegally charged fee increases after they started school in 2003, a Superior Court judge in San Francisco ruled Friday.
UC is likely to appeal the decision, officials said.
In the ruling, Judge John E. Munter said that several thousand UC students in law, medicine, nursing and other programs were, in effect, promised that their professional school fees would not rise during their enrollments and that the university violated that pledge.
About 2,900 students, most of whom started in 2003 and are now presumably finished, are entitled to refunds and interest ranging from several hundred dollars to more than $10,000 apiece, depending on their fees, financial aid and time in school, according to Danielle Leonard, an attorney who represented them.
UC catalogs and websites had stated that the professional school portion of fees would not rise for continuing students and that constituted a contract, said Leonard, of the Altshuler Berzon law firm in San Francisco. "It's nice to see the court thinks the same," she said.
UC counsel Christopher Patti said university officials disagree with the court's decision and "are very seriously considering an appeal."
In 2007, UC lost a similar case when an appellate court ordered it to repay about $40 million to 9,100 students who started in its professional schools around 2002. UC has paid those refunds.
However, Patti said there is a crucial difference between the two cases. He said the UC statements about not raising professional school fees were contained in documents intended for students starting in 2002.
Even though students starting in 2003 may have seen the earlier material, it was not aimed at them and UC should not be forced to uphold an outdated promise, he said.
UCLA law school graduate Andrea Luquetta, the lead plaintiff, said in a prepared statement: "This is a great victory for all my classmates who paid more in fees, and took on much higher debt, than what we originally thought we would have to pay to attend the University of California."