In May 2020, Plaintiff Keller J. Mellowitz, a student at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, filed a class-action complaint against the University for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The student contended that the university failed to reimburse students for on-campus college activities interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic during the Spring of 2020. The class action seeks to recover the cost of in-person tuition and other fees for a proposed class of approximately twenty-thousand affected students.
Initially, the suit was derailed because of a 2021 Indiana law retroactively prohibiting class-action lawsuits against state universities over COVID-19 closures. The trial court ordered the plaintiff to file an amended complaint to only advance claims on behalf of himself, individually, and not as a class action. However, the Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s decision and ruled that the state legislature lacked the authority to pass a law barring class actions like the one in this case. The Indiana Attorney General has now petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court to hear the case.
The state’s high court has not decided whether to hear the case, but if so, its ruling could have national implications. Affirming the intermediate court would not only permit the current class action to proceed against Ball State University, but also expose other Indiana colleges and universities to liability for disruptions caused by COVID-19. Plaintiffs across the county could rely on the precedent established by this case and file similar class-action complaints in their home states. Therefore, this is a case worth watching for colleges and universities across the country.