Class action lawsuit filed in B.C. Supreme Court alleges parking pass contracts were frustrated by COVID-19
A class action lawsuit has been filed against the University of Victoria for their refusal to refund the final five and a half months of the 2019/20 annual parking pass.
Mitchell Selly, a partner at the MacIsaac Group of Law Firms, filed the lawsuit in the B.C. Supreme Court.
“It’s quite a simple situation,” said Selly in a phone interview with the Martlet. “You have the contract, it was frustrated by COVID, most other places are giving refunds, credit, or something along those lines, and UVic decided to go against the flow.”
In a May 13 Times Colonist article that originally reported the class action lawsuit, Paul Marck, UVic Associate Manager of Media Relations and Public Affairs, said the university knows about the lawsuit but cannot comment on a case involving the courts.
On March 13, UVic moved courses online. The remainder of the winter term moved online on March 13, and UVic announced on March 26 that all summer courses would be offered virtually.
While he believes UVic has reacted well to the COVID-19 crisis, Selly is surprised the university hasn’t been winning to refund students money on the remainder of their parking pass — especially when those students typically work in industries that are impacted by the pandemic.
“You’ve got a bunch of students a lot of whom work in industries that are absolutely shut down right now, like the service industry…that type of work, stuff that fits in with students’ schedules,” said Selly. “A refund of a couple hundred dollars makes a big difference to people in that circumstance.”
In Selly’s opinion, the parking pass situation fits the definition of a class action lawsuit.
The lawsuit still needs to be certified by the court, and if it’s certified anyone impacted — or who bought a parking pass — is automatically in the lawsuit, unless they choose to opt out or pursue their own claims.
A class action lawsuit allows for one person to file on behalf of a class — which, in this case, would include anyone that purchased an annual parking pass. Instead of having an individual represent themselves as the sole plaintiff against a company or defendant, class action lawsuits allow for groups of people to seek damages through the courts. If the lawsuit is successful, anyone who purchased a pass can receive the benefits of the suit without necessarily needing to be involved in the case.
Last month, the Martlet reported that UVic students felt frustrated by the university’s decision not to refund their annual parking passes. UVic said the pass was offered at a 73 per cent discount compared to a daily pass. The university’s Traffic and Parking regulations also state that annual parking passes cannot be refunded after the final working day of December.
“Despite the cancellation of most face-to-face services and classes, UVic is not closed as the university continues operations, albeit many of them remotely and with many facilities shut due to the risks of COVID-19,” said Marck in an interview last month.
In response to the university saying the annual pass is a discount, Selly says students paid a specific amount of money for a year-long pass to park on campus for in-person classes held at the university — and should receive a reimbursement for the time they don’t need to be physically on campus. Further, Selly claims the value of the parking pass contracts were impacted by an unforeseen event — COVID-19.
“If you buy something in bulk in any form, you bought something,” Selly said. “You’re going to get a discount, that doesn’t mean that later on that changes the contract just because it got frustrated by some other means.”
Vancouver Island University announced on March 25 that they would be offering students a refund on their parking passes amid COVID-19 retroactive to March 13. The refunds were offered through a prorated basis by the number of days left on the pass.
Class action lawsuits can take a long time. In 2018, a lawsuit was filed against UVic by Susan Service. Service alleged that the university was not authorized to freeze wage increases for some of their staff. After the BC Supreme Court threw out Service’s case, the BC Court of Appeal allowed the case to go ahead in December 2019.
Now, after filing the document to ignite the class action process, Selly will wait for UVic to file a response before the lawsuit can be certified by the court.
Aaron Elsser, a fifth-year mechanical engineering student who purchased an annual parking pass, spoke to the Martlet in April about the university’s refusal to give out refunds.
Elsser, who still hasn’t heard back from UVic after reaching out to them last month, believes UVic’s refusal to refund the passes is a money grab.
“This is the one chance I have to get something back from the university that I feel like I deserve, and especially when it’s on the behalf of not just me but other students who are also affected,” said Elsser in a telephone interview.