Earth Day in Lee County

FILE - Auburn University’s tree preservation committee approved the removal of both a white oak in Samford Park and a Heritage loblolly outside Smith Hall. 

A Valley man and his daughter have filed a $10 million lawsuit against Auburn University claiming that it is fraudulently charging in-state students out-of-state tuition.

Jeffrey Prosser and his daughter Brooke Prosser, of Valley but formerly of Georgia, filed the lawsuit.

Brook Prosser is claiming that she has qualified for in-state tuition since starting school at the university but has been denied, instead charged out-of-state tuition.

The lawsuit names Gov. Kay Ivey, Auburn University, The Auburn University board of trustees and Interim President Jay Gogue.

In-state tuition at Auburn for undergraduates is $5,746 per semester. Out-of-state tuition is $15,562 per semester.

“Auburn University does not comment on pending litigation,” said an official statement from the university. No other comment was made available from university representatives.

Local attorney Mark Tippins is representing the Prossers.

The lawsuit

Brooke and Jeffrey Prosser have exhausted their measures to work with the university toward securing in-state tuition and claim they meet each of the requirements, the claim states. 

“After going through every single process and trying to be a gentleman about this process, I’ve felt they are in violation of both the laws in Alabama and [the laws in Auburn] and I told them I was going to seek legal process and pursue this to the courts,” Jeffrey Prosser told the Opelika-Auburn News.

He tried to file the appeals claim made for his daughter to receive in-state tuition but was denied three times, he said. When he tried to contact the university, he said it avoided his calls and emails and sent him a form letter.

“This action does not yet involve any requests for financial damages for any particular trustee personally nor any particular officer or agent of Auburn University at this time,” the claim said. “However, hereinafter, the plaintiffs seek financial damages from the defendant Auburn University and any of its employees, trustees or agents who flagrantly, fraudulently and wrongfully denied in state tuition to plaintiff Brooke Prosser.”

Brooke and Jeffrey Prosser both classify as citizens of Lee County. Jeffrey Prosser said that close to three years ago they moved from Georgia into a house at Lake Harding in Valley.  

“Brooke Prosser is a duly enrolled student and matriculate at Auburn University,” the claim said. “She is over the age of nineteen years and is a bona fide resident of the state of Alabama and Lee County. At all times pertinent to the allegations in this complaint, she has also been a bona fide resident of the State of Alabama.”

A shared problem?

Other families have experienced this issue as well, Jeffrey Prosser said.

“I personally know of other parents who have been through the same process I’ve been through and have been denied in-state tuition after meeting every single requirement,” he said.

Prosser and his family moved to Alabama to retire, he said, but they feel they have not received fair treatment from the state or university.

“My family has been denied, we feel we have been wronged,” he said. “I feel my reputation has been wronged, I think my family has been wronged.”

Three claims are made in the lawsuit, the first as a petition for Writ of Manadamus.

The claims

“The Plaintiffs respectfully ask this Court to issue an writ or order of mandamus to the president of Auburn University to direct the office of the registrar to classify Brook Prosser as the dependent of a bona fide Alabama full time resident and citizen in order that she may receive status as an Alabama in-state student thus qualifying her for in-state tuition rates,” the claim said.

The second claim is for fraud, of which the plaintiffs claim the university intentionally withheld in-state tuition.

“The plaintiffs have learned that on many occasions the office of the registrar and its appeals committee are told and advised to wrongly and fraudulently deny in state status to properly and legitimately qualified applicants,” the claim said.

The third claim is for remuneration and refund. The Prossers are asking Auburn University for $10 million, which will cover the amount they have previously paid plus damages.

In-state requirements

Auburn University’s requirements for in-state tuition include acting as a legal permanent resident of the United States and having lived in Alabama for 12 months before registration at Auburn.

Residency requires working as a full-time employee in Alabama and not having attended school full-time (10 or more hours) before registering at the university.

“Non-resident students who carry an academic load considered normal (10 or more hours per term for Undergraduates, and 7 hours or more for Graduate students per term) will be presumed to be in the State of Alabama primarily for the purpose of gaining an education and, thus, have not demonstrated the intent to establish a true domicile in Alabama,” state the Auburn University requirements.

Out-of-state classification may occur when a student graduated from a high-school outside of Alabama or attended a college (on-line or in person) outside of the state.

In addition, property ownership does not classify residency in Alabama. The non-minor applicant must have permanent residency in Alabama or work full time in the state, according to the requirements.

If the applicant is a minor, they must have a parent or guardian live or work in Alabama full time.

“The [Residency Appeals Committee] reviews appeals of initial decisions of residency for tuition purposes by the Office of the University Registrar based on the Board of Trustees’ Student Residency Tuition Policy,” the requirements state. “Residency Appeals Committee recommendations are sent to the Provost for a final decision.”

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