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Unjust Enrichment against University?

Tempe, AZ |

I was recently admitted to a university in the Phoenix area (as a transfer student) and upon my admission I've been classified as a non-resident, and as such, will have to pay substantially more in tuition to attend. My issue is that I am in fact a resident of the state and believe their residency classification to be incorrect. I have already went through their appeal process and so there appears to be no other options unless there is something I can do legally. My question is whether or not I might be able to file a claim for unjust enrichment against either the university itself or the state's board of regents (who apparently governs these residency decisions), if I am able to prove that I am a resident of the state and meet the board's guidelines for a resident?

Also, if it is possible to file an unjust enrichment claim, would I first have to actually pay the inflated tuition bill before filing the claim, or could I preemptively file it anyway knowing that in order to attend classes I will be paying the inflated tuition amount (non-resident rate)? In other words, must the other party actually first unjustly obtain the inflated tuition amount from me before I could legally file a claim against them, or is being informed of my non-resident classification when it comes to tuition rates enough to preemptively file?

Attorney Answers 3

Posted

You need to sit down with an Arizona attorney familiar with university-based residency determination issues and discuss your specific facts as to how you feel you are a resident and the basis the university has for saying that you are not.

Regarding unjust enrichment, you have to have taken some action first that is shown to benefit the other party before you can state that the other party has been unjustly enriched.

Before you decide to file any sort of claim against anyone in your situation, you really do need to talk to an Arizona attorney to evaluate the merits of your situation.

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Posted

Odd that you would actually BE a resident yet the school designated you a non resident; then on administrative appeal that designation is confirmed. I have to think you have inadvertently omitted some pertinent facts. You should know that most major universities are represented by top shelf law firms and their process are generally well vetted...it would be unlikely that they would declare you a nonresident if there was any strong argument to the contrary.

Concur with Attorney Kavanagh, see a local atty.

READ THIS BEFORE CALLING OR EMAILING ME: I am licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, addressing your issue does not create an attorney-client relationship and I AM NOT providing you legal advice. You should speak with an attorney to whom you have provided all the facts, before you take steps that may impact your legal rights. I am not obligated to answer subsequent emails or phone calls unless you have hired me. I wish you the best of luck with your situation.

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2 comments

Asker

Posted

I don't think it's odd or surprising at all. Universities will try to press for dollars any way they can. Their appeal process should be taken with a grain of salt as it is made up of a board of regents who by design are there to concur with the university in denying individuals residency whether there is merit to the student's appeal or not. Universities often get away with this type of legalized extortion because very few students know anything about potential legal remedies or have the know how to pursue a legal claim, so there is little risk of them denying a student residency because more likely than not a student won't do anything about it anyway.

Rixon Charles Rafter III

Rixon Charles Rafter III

Posted

Well, I guess you know more about it than I. Best of luck to you.

Posted

Unjust enrichment is a dead-end, strategically unsound, and not worth considering.

If you are very sure of your position, you may want to initiate an action in the civil court for a declaration of residency. That kind of litigation is very technical and procedurally precise and you will need skilled legal counsel. Prior to taking any court action, you should step through each and every basis for the university's denial of your appeal and determination against your assertion of residency. For each and every element of the school's basis, figure out what your rebuttal is. Next, separate out the issues that involve disputed factual determinations. Now, look at what's left: that is your civil case. You need to step through this exercise because the court will not ordinarily substitute its judgment as to disputed facts if there is any reasonable factual basis for the university's determination. A court will much more readily correct errors of law and procedure.

I have read your subsequent comments to Mr. Rafter and you are already making a critical mistake common to laypersons: you are assuming that the bases of the opposition's position can be accounted for by their motives and self-interest and giving the opposing position short shrift because you know it is wrong. Even when such characterization of the opposing position is correct, it is a foolish indulgence, as skilled attorney's know. You get just a few moves in the legal arena and you must make the most of each of them. Failing to make sufficient analysis of the opposition's moves and strategies is usually fatal to your own success. Whatever the university's bases for its determination, you need to study and understand them if you have any hope of finding the flaws and developing legally adequate responses.

At the very least, given the cost of tuition to non-residents, you should invest in a consultation with an attorney as to whether you have any realistic prospect for success in reversing this determination. You should also factor into your evaluation how long it will take you to establish residency. If you can establish residency more quickly than you can litigate a result, that may be the answer.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

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5 comments

Asker

Posted

I certainly appreciate the response. However, the basis for my thinking along the lines of an unjust enrichment claim is that I've already just recently graduated from the university in question and have already paid the non-residency rates. Now, I want to recover the portions of the tuition that I paid that I shouldn't have had to pay since I sincerely know that I've met the state's residency requirements all along and that the few board members (from the board of regents) that were at my appeal hearing two years ago were essentially not only incorrect in their assessment of my file, but also unthorough, speculatory, and without factual substance in reaching their final conclusion that I didn't meet residency requirements. Obviously, my personal opinions regarding why these types of situations occur in the educational system would not show up in a pleading. I may be a layperson as you've indicated, but I'm not that stupid. This is an issue that is clear cut---I'm either a resident by criteria or I'm not. I believe I've met the criteria all along and that I my file was improperly reviewed. Whether or not I believe that the people that make these decisions are extortionists or not is really irrelevant. I understand that.

Asker

Posted

Also, my original post saying I was "recently admitted" was a not written to my specific situation, but just in general. Admittedly, I should have written it retroactively indicating that I already paid the money and graduated, and am now looking to get the money I believe I overpaid back.

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

This amendment of your factual premise may be critical. You will need to consult with an administrative law attorney in Arizona, specifically on the time limits issue. In many states, the requirement that you exhaust your administrative remedies also carries a very narrow time limit for either (1) further administrative appeal (if there is a further level of appeal or review available, it is required that you exercise it in order to preserve the right to later initiate any lawsuit for damages); or (2) recourse to a general jurisdiction court to review that decision based on the record of the administrative proceedings. In many states, failing to take those two actions within a very short time window (30 - 90 days in some states; one year in others) would bar you from any lawsuit to recover damages based on any claim of error in the administrative (residency) decision. The wide-spread applicability of this doctrine in administrative law is why I initially stated that, if you had recourse to court, it would be for a declaration of residency -- not for damages. Administrative agencies and governmental entities have the right in administrative law to proceed with their best effort decision based on the facts as the agency finds them without undue risk. That means that the recourse of aggrieved persons is to move promptly to get the disputed decision/action corrected -- not to come along later and sue for the consequences of the allegedly erroneous decision. The determination as to whether this doctrine will operate as a total bar against any claim you might now wish to bring for damages will be very fact-specific and technical. You really need legal counsel to make this evaluation.

Asker

Posted

So then just to be clear, given that I did in fact originally exhaust all of the administrative options in regards to my appeal as you stated in your #1 above, are you saying that I would have then had to have also brought my issue of residency to a general jurisdiction Court within 60-90 days after the final decision (where I was classified as a non-resident) I received from the appeal committee at my university? I did not do #2 above, and so I may be barred if I understand your explanation correctly. If am not barred in Arizona by that law (does that doctrine have an official name by the way so I can research it more?), however, are you then saying it is possible that an unjust enrichment claim may then be a viable legal option (assuming I'm still within the statute of limitations) in recovering the overpaid tuition?

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall

Posted

These are the legal issues that you need to consult with local counsel on: (1) whether you exhausted your administrative remedies (you saying you did or believing you did or having intended to do so is not controlling; exhaustion is a legal standard); (2) the time-limit for judicial review of the result of the administrative appeal (often but not always denominated as a Petition for Writ of Administrative Mandamus); and (3) whether a failure to have timely met the standards of (1) and (2) is a bar to an action for damages. Even if a damages action is available (and there is strong basis for concern that it is not based on the facts that you have provided), unjust enrichment is not the cause of action that would be available or useful here. I am signing off to you with this comment. You have a complicated and procedurally-intricate legal issue and you need experienced local legal counsel, ideally an administrative law attorney. Nothing more useful than that can be offered to you at this point.