Purdue faces second student lawsuit seeking refunds due to COVID-19

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Purdue University faces a second proposed class-action lawsuit filed by a student who says he and others are owed refunds for tuition and fees paid for in-person classes and activities that transitioned to remote education when campuses closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Elijah Seslar filed a complaint against Purdue on Wednesday in Tippecanoe Circuit Court. Seslar is a full-time student studying finance at the university’s Fort Wayne campus.

His suit seeks a class of Purdue students who allege they are owed refunds for tuition and various fees paid for the spring 2020 semester at Purdue’s West Lafayette campus, campuses in Fort Wayne, Hammond and Westville, or at its polytechnic institute campuses in Anderson, Columbus, Indianapolis, Kokomo, Lafayette, New Albany, Richmond, South Bend and Vincennes.

The suit is Elijah Seslar, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated v. The Trustees of Purdue University, 79-C01-2005-PL-59.

The case mirrors claims made in a suit the same attorneys filed last month against Indiana University in Monroe Circuit Court. In that case, IU Bloomington informatics student Justin Spiegel 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.

The suit filed Wednesday against Purdue states similar claims against the university, including breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

“These cases are about basic fairness,” Roy Willey, an attorney with the Charleston, South Carolina-based Anastopoulo Law Firm said of the suit the firm and Indianapolis attorney Jacob Cox filed on Seslar’s behalf. “Colleges and universities are not unlike any other business in America and they too have to tighten their belts during this unprecedented time. They are not any more entitled to keep money for services they are not delivering than the mom and pop bakery on Main Street. Students and their families have pre-paid tuition and fees for services, access to facilities and experiential education and the universities and colleges are not delivering those services, access or experiences. Now universities are not delivering those services that students and their families have paid for and it’s not fair for the universities with multi-million dollar endowments to keep all of the money that students and their families have paid.”

Purdue spokesman Tim Doty did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment. He said last month after the first suit was filed against Purdue that the litigation had been expected but was 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,” Doty 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 first suit against Purdue was filed by senior Zachary Church of Michigan, who alleged students were not offered adequate refunds for tuition, housing, meals and more when they were asked in March 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. That suit before Judge Philip Simon, Church v. Purdue University, 4:20-cv-25, likewise seeks 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.

Spokesman Chuck Carney last month issued a statement in response to the suit filed against IU. “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.

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