INDIANAPOLIS — With COVID rapidly spreading and vaccines just in the development phase in the spring of 2020, Ball State University made the same decision a lot of schools made. They moved to remote classes.
Student Keller Mellowitz had an objection. He’d paid student activity fees. He’d paid tuition for in-person classes. Now, he was getting neither and the university was not offering refunds.
So, Mellowitz sued.
In Marion County Superior Court his attorneys filed a class action lawsuit claiming Ball State’s refusal to reimburse students amounted to a breach of contract and therefore damages should be awarded. The lawsuit estimated as many as 20,000 Ball State students were due some sort of payment.
As things slowly chugged along in the pandemic-slowed court system, state government attempted to derail the class action suit.
In April of 2021, Governor Eric Holcomb signed into law House Enrolled Act 1002. A portion of that new law retroactively banned class action lawsuits against a “covered entity” which included “state educational institutions”.
With the lawsuit legislatively on ice, Mellowitz’s attorneys would eventually file an appeal with the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Earlier this month, three appeals court judges agreed that the portion of the new law providing class action protection to state schools was a “nullity”, voided. The action was because the law conflicted with long-established court rules.
Judge Terry Crone, who wrote the decision, ordered the class action suit should proceed.
Neither Mellowitz or his attorneys were immediately available for comment. A spokesman for Ball State declined to discuss the case because it “under litigation”.
It is not known how much money Ball State saved for itself by not providing tuition and fees refunds, but the school received a large chunk of federal pandemic relief.
In total, the university was given $77,500,000. After sharing $27,700,000 with students in the form of emergency grants there was still nearly $50,000,000 for Ball State to use at its discretion. Colleges and universities commonly used these funds, in part, to provide tuition, housing and meal plan refunds to their students.
Below are the original class action filing and the Court of Appeals of Indiana decision: