The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday turned back the University of Missouri system’s appeal of a judge’s ruling that it illegally charged in-state tuition.
The state high court’s decision not to hear the case means a lower court judge will now have to determine the exact amount of damages in the case, which has been estimated at $472 million.
Last year, St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Romines ruled the university illegally charged tuition to in-state residents between 1986 and 2001. That judgment was appealed before the case’s second phase — which would determine the amount of damages — could begin.
Bob Herman, who represents the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, said the state Supreme Court’s order, which was issued without comment, sends the case back in the right direction after a series of unsuccessful appeals.
“After a nine-month delay, it’s going back to where it belongs,” he said.
The class-action lawsuit, filed in 1998, accused the university system of charging in-state students “fees” that amounted to tuition. An 1872 state law mandated free education for Missouri’s “youths” at any of the four campuses.
The university has argued that its “fees” for in-state undergraduates were legal. But last December, Romines ruled that the university violated state law between 1986 and 2001 — when the 1872 statute was overturned — by charging what amounted to tuition for students ages 17 to 21.
University lawyers expect to begin sifting through thousands of internal records to determine the exact amount charged to more than 150,000 current and former students, according to a news release.
Attorneys for both sides will likely meet within the next month to determine the timetable for the damage phase of the trial, Herman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.