The American Bar Association and NALP are not “indispensible absent parties” to a proposed fraud class action brought by 12 recent graduates against the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist’s June 7 ruling dealt a blow to Cooley’s argument that it was “just following orders” by providing the job figures required by NALP, formerly the National Association for Law Placement, and the ABA, said attorney Jesse Strauss, who represents the plaintiffs alongside attorneys David Anziska and Frank Raimond.
“So far, we’re two for two on that,” Strauss said, noting that a New York state trial judge in March rejected a similar argument by New York Law School before dismissing the larger suit. (Strauss said he plans to file an appeal in the New York case by early July).
Lawyers for Cooley and the plaintiffs faced off on June 5 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan during a hearing on the law school’s motion to dismiss the case, which was filed in August. Cooley was among the first schools sued in what has become a wave of litigation directed at law schools that plaintiffs claim puffed up their post-graduate employment data in efforts to lure students.
Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone attorney Michael Coakley, who represents Cooley, did not respond to calls for comment. Cooley general counsel James Thelen said that while Quist did rule against Cooley on a number of limited, procedural matters, he is optimistic that the larger motion to dismiss will be granted.
In its motion to dismiss, Cooley argued that the plaintiffs’ claims are aimed primarily at the ABA and NALP, and that failing to include those organizations as defendants was ground to dismiss the complaint.
“Plaintiffs ask for an “industry”-wide rewrite of those standards, but fail to name as defendants the very entities whose standards they want the court to rewrite,” Cooley argued in its motion.
Quist disagreed, ruling that the ABA and NALP’s reporting requirements “are a floor, not a ceiling,” and that Cooley could provide employment information beyond what those organization mandate.
“Even though the plaintiffs’ goal may be to fix systemic problems in law school employment data reporting, that goal is not what they seek to accomplish with this particular lawsuit,” Quist wrote. “Plaintiffs seek damages and equitable relief solely from Cooley and its agents.”
Quist has yet to rule on Cooley’s larger argument: that the Michigan Consumer Protection Act (MCPA) does not apply to educational purchases. That law applies only to “providing goods, property, or service primarily for personal, family, or household purposes,” Cooley argued.
Strauss replied in court that another Michigan federal judge’s 2009 ruling that the MCPA did not apply to Cooley was “off the cuff” and had little statutory support. “I don’t think that the Michigan Legislature intended [for providers of education to be exempt],” he said.
Strauss said the fate of the Cooley suit likely would come down to the MCPA issue. A ruling on that matter was expected soon.
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