November 22, 2023

Indiana Supreme Court upholds ban on class action suits over higher education pandemic policies

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Justice Derek Molter participates in a traveling oral argument of Keller J. Mellowitz v. Ball State University, et al. on Apr. 11, 2023 at the University of Indianapolis.  - Brandon Smith/IPB News

Justice Derek Molter participates in a traveling oral argument of Keller J. Mellowitz v. Ball State University, et al. on Apr. 11, 2023 at the University of Indianapolis.

Brandon Smith/IPB News

A state law banning class action lawsuits against Indiana colleges and universities over their COVID-19 policies is constitutional, according to a new ruling from the Indiana Supreme Court.

The decision issued Wednesday comes from a student’s lawsuit against Ball State.

Keller Mellowitz sued Ball State, seeking a refund after in-person classes were canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic. And he sued on behalf of himself and other students — a class action.

But the Indiana legislature passed a law, HEA 1002-2021, banning class actions against higher education institutions related to their handling of COVID-19. Mellowitz argued that law was unconstitutional because it interfered with court procedures, which should be the sole purview of the judiciary.

READ MORE: Indiana Supreme Court considers striking down law shielding higher ed from COVID-19 class-actions

 

 

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The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously disagreed. Justice Derek Molter wrote that the 2021 law is narrow enough — only applying to COVID claims against higher education in a limited period of time. Molter’s opinion also said that because of its narrow scope, the law clearly pursues a public policy objective, which is the purview of the legislature.

Mellowitz and other students can still sue; they just have to do so individually.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

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