A Ball State University student is suing the school for breaching contract when the school closed in-person classes during the COVID-19 shutdown. He claims that Ball State refused to give him a partial refund for the tuition he paid.
The Indiana Supreme Court is hearing the lawsuit, trying to decide if a class-action lawsuit is permitted in the case. A law was passed in 2021 by state legislature prohibiting class-action lawsuits for any damages or breaches of contracts caused by COVID-19.
In 2020, Governor Holcomb passed a stay at home order, which caused Ball State University to cancel in-person classes. Keller Mellowitz, the student suing Ball State, and his lawyers argue that students are owed a refund for the cancellations.
“The students of Ball State have paid certain fees and costs for in-person tuition. As a result of the campus shutting down, the performance of those services was not provided. They’re looking for a partial refund of what they offer,” said Colin Flora, Attorney for Mellowitz.
The case is going to the state supreme court because Mellowitz filed a putative class-action, then Indiana’s General Assemply codified Indiana Code 37-12-5 with a section that says:
A claimant may not bring, and a court may not certify, a class action lawsuit against a covered entity for loss or damages arising from COVID-19 in a contract, implied contract, quasi-contract, or unjust enrichment claim.
In the arguments heard by the state Supreme Court Tuesday, Mellowitz’s lawyers claim that this law puts all the burden from the COVID-19 shutdown on students and those hurt by the contract damages. If a class action is allowed, then more students can afford to seek reimbursement for any damages they may have gotten from canceling in-person classes.
Ball State wants the court to uphold the law to stop a class-action lawsuit against them. “While the students may pursue their claims,” said Brian Paul, one attorney for Ball State, “the school should not have to defend those claims while also facing the costs and pressures to settle that class-action litigation brings.”
“They provided the education that these students had paid for and still they are being sued. The legislature under these unique circumstances can reasonably think that the schools are entitled to some relief,” said Paul.
The Indiana Supreme Court will review the case and make their ruling at a later date.