Within days of Savannah Law School announcing its closing last Wednesday, students filed a putative class action for breach of contract and negligence, seeking relief including attorney fees and punitive damages.
“Earlier today, we filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the students at Savannah Law School and are actively seeking justice on their behalf,” Stephen Lowry of Harris Lowry Manton said in a Friday evening news release. The plaintiffs firm has offices in Savannah and Atlanta.
The school’s administrators told students Wednesday that they would be closing at the end of the spring 2018 semester. They said the school’s building had been sold, and students would finish the semester at an undisclosed location, according to the lawsuit and local news reports.
Savannah Law School operates as a branch of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. Administrators told students they would be offered a one-time $2,000 scholarship to transfer to Atlanta.
“These students attended Savannah Law School in good faith, with the expectation that they could complete a law degree in Savannah from an accredited institution,” Lowry said. “We hope to help these students secure an adequate recovery in light of this devastating turn of events.”
Savannah Law School Dean Malcolm Morris could not be reached immediately for comment on the class action, and didn’t provide comment to The Daily Report when first asked about the closure. The school did release a statement last Thursday citing an “unforeseen national decline” in legal jobs and the law school applicant pool. “The Board’s decision was prompted by the continued small student enrollment at the branch. As such, it was the Board’s responsibility to acknowledge that a viable program of legal education could not be sustained at that location,” the school’s statement said.
The complaint, filed in Chatham County State Court, named both Savannah Law School and John Marshall Law School as defendants. It accuses them of “false and misleading representations and omissions” about financial stability, the grading curve and noncompliance with American Bar Association accreditation standards, as well as denying students the opportunity to take a full course of legal studies and obtain a J.D. where they started.
John Marshall is one of 10 law schools nationwide that the ABA has sanctioned for violating admissions standards.
The students also alleged that their grades were devalued. “Following the announcement of the closure, students were notified that any who sought to transfer their credits to another school would receive a letter informing that school that the school used a deflated grading curve—that is, that its grades are curved to a 2.7 rather than a customary 2.9 or 3.0,” the complaint said.
The students also took issue with the sale of the law school’s nearly 200-year-old building on Drayton Street, the former Candler Hospital. “At least one legal news site has reported ‘speculat[ion] that Savannah Law was opened in the first place [by Atlanta’s John Marshall] with the goal of using federal student loans as income to wait out the market before flipping on a prime piece of real estate,’” the complaint said.
Full-time students at the private, for-profit law school paid approximately $21,100 per semester, the complaint said. Part-time students paid $12,660 per semester.