IU student files class-action suit seeking COVID-19-related damages

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An Indiana University student has sued the school in a proposed class-action suit, arguing that while the university did the right thing by closing campuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, students are entitled to refunds “for services not received.”

The suit is the latest in a rash of nationwide litigation students have filed against colleges and universities seeking refunds for the lack of in-person instruction brought about by the unprecedented public health emergency.

IU Bloomington informatics student Justin Spiegel filed the proposed class-action complaint Wednesday in Monroe Circuit Court. In it, he asserts claims of breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

Spiegel is represented by Indianapolis attorney Jacob Cox and the Charleston, South Carolina-based Anastopoulo Law Firm.

Among other things, Spiegel’s suit alleges he and other students who paid tuition and various fees for the spring 2020 semester were deprived of services as well as the advantages of in-person interaction with fellow students, faculty, the institution and the full university experience. After the university closed due to the pandemic, the suit says, his “education has changed from in-person hands on learning to online instruction” and is “not commensurate with the same classes being taught in person.”

The suit points out that IU offers remote bachelor degree studies in informatics through its IU Online program, whose tuition costs are significantly less than those paid for traditional on-campus studies.

IU spokesman Chuck Carney responded to the suit in a statement. “In the midst of a global pandemic that has wreaked havoc on our entire way of life, Indiana University has acted responsibly to keep our students safe and progressing in their education,” he said.

“We are deeply disappointed that this lawsuit fails to recognize the extraordinary efforts of our faculty, staff, and students under these conditions while it seeks to take advantage in this time of state and national emergency.”

Last month, Indianapolis Business Journal reported Purdue senior Zachary Church of Michigan sued the school, alleging students were not offered adequate refunds for tuition, housing, meals and more when they were asked last month to leave campus as COVID-19 began spreading across the country.

Church filed the lawsuit against the university and its board of trustees April 9 in the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana. The suit is seeking class-action status. The complaint is one of several that New York-based law firm Milberg Phillips Grossman LLP has filed on behalf of college students across the country who are now receiving a much different college experience than they expected.

Church’s lawsuit seeks “appropriate compensation on a pro-rata basis” for what it deems are inadequate refunds. It also seeks damages for the difference in value between online and in-person instruction.

Purdue University spokesman Tim Doty called the lawsuit expected but without merit.

“It was sadly predictable that some plaintiff’s lawyer would attempt to profit from this unprecedented public health crisis that’s affected us all,” he said. “The suit is baseless and has no chance of ultimate success. In the meantime, it will be one more minor difficulty among all those we’re currently wrestling with.”

The National Law Journal reported this week that multiple institutions of higher learning, including Ivy League schools such as Columbia and Cornell universities and the University of Pennsylvania, are facing similar suits from students.

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