Indiana Supreme Court upholds law limiting COVID class action lawsuits

 November 27, 2023

Last week saw the Indiana Supreme Court uphold a law limiting the ability of people to file COVID-related class action lawsuits. 

According to the Muncie Star Press, the legislation was passed by the Indiana General Assembly in response to a lawsuit filed in May of 2020 by Keller J. Mellowitz.

Man sought to recover money spent on tuition and student fees

A student at Ball State University, Mellowitz accused the college of committing breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

His allegations arose from the school's decision to exclusively provide online instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of his class action lawsuit, Mellowitz sought to recover the tuition and fees he paid for in‐person instruction along with other services that the institution had promised.

This included money Mellowitz was charged for "student services fees, university technology fees, student health fees, and student transportation fees."

Lower court found that law violated long-standing Indiana trial rule

The Star Press noted that then-Ball State University spokesperson Kathy Wolf put out a statement in 2020 explaining that students would not receive any reimbursements.

"We have decided not to refund tuition because, through our prompt and effective transition to remote learning and other alternative teaching and learning activities, our faculty and staff enabled our students to complete their courses and continue making satisfactory progress toward earning their degrees," Wolf was quoted as saying.

After state lawmakers prohibited students from filing class action lawsuits against colleges and universities over their COVID policies, Marion County judge dismissed Mellowitz's suit and instructed him to refile it without "class allegations."

Mellowitz instead challenged the judge's ruling, leading the Indiana Court of Appeals to determine in 2022 that the class action lawsuit ban did not conform to a long-standing Indiana trial rule.

Mellowitz still permitted to pursue "individual claims" against the school

However, while the Indiana Court of Appeals instructed the Marion County court to begin "further proceedings consistent with that decision," the state's highest judicial body said otherwise.

In a unanimous ruling last Wednesday, the Indiana Supreme Court said that the 2020 law did not violate the state's constitutional separation of powers.

The justices added that although Mellowitz is barred from litigating on behalf of other students, he is still permitted to sue for "individual claims" against Ball State University.

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