Photo: Diego Radzinschi

 

Arizona Summit Law School sued the American Bar Association in federal court Thursday, alleging that its law school accrediting arm violated the school’s due process when it was put on probation last year for violating admissions rules.

It’s the third time in as many weeks that the for-profit law school consortium InfiLaw Corp. has filed suit against the ABA over sanctions imposed on its schools, and yet again the company has turned to a trio of high-profile attorneys at Kirkland & Ellis that includes Paul Clement and Viet Dinh.

“The ABA’s accreditation standards inherently are vague, indeterminate, and subject to manipulation,” said Arizona Summit president Don Lively in an announcement of the suit filed in Arizona federal district court. “They constitute an open invitation for subjectivity, bias, and double standards in their application—abuses that we have experienced first-hand and are precisely what due process protects against.”

Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, could not be reached for comment on the suit Thursday. But Currier has said previously that the ABA will defend its accreditation activities in court.

“Courts have regularly upheld the ABA’s law school accreditation process,” he said. “We will continue to follow our established procedures and expect to be successful in any future litigation challenging the actions of the council.”

InfiLaw kicked off the wave on litigation on May 10 when its Florida Coastal School of Law sued, claiming the ABA is punishing the school despite the fact that its bar pass rates exceed those at many others schools that have not been targeted by the ABA.

Next up was a suit on behalf of the now defunct InfiLaw-owned Charlotte School of Law filed May 15 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, which charged that the ABA’s uneven enforcement of its accreditation standards led the U.S. Department of Education to cut the school off from the federal loan program in late 2016. The school was never able to recover from losing federal loan eligibility and it closed in August 2017.

The latest suit on behalf of Arizona Summit is similar to the first two. It also claims that the ABA’s law school accreditation standards are vague and not applied consistently across schools. It also alleges, as did Charlotte and Florida Coastal, that the ABA was acting under pressure from officials within the Education Department to target for-profit institutions with accreditation enforcement.

The ABA put the Phoenix school on probation in March 2017 for low bar pass rates, its admissions practices, and its academic support. Earlier this year, the ABA also found the school out of compliance with its financial standards.

Just 20 percent of Arizona Summit graduates passed the February 2018 Arizona bar exam. That figure was also 20 percent for the previous exam in July 2018.

“The ABA deliberately has turned a blind eye to our achievements, mission, and results–which include bar examination performance that at times has led the state and, despite a recent decline, remains consistent with nationwide trends and in compliance with accreditation standards,” said interim Dean Penny Willrich in the announcement of the suit.

In addition to the three InfiLaw schools, the ABA is also being sued by Western Michigan University Thomas Cooley Law School after it was found out of compliance with the accreditation standards. The ABA found in March that the school had taken steps to come back into compliance with its rules.