Florida Coastal School of Law

 

A federal judge has declined to issue a temporary restraining order—at least for now—that would have stopped the American Bar Association from requiring Florida Coastal School of Law to make several public disclosures about its accreditation status and bar pass rates.

Judge Brian Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled June 18 that the ABA should be given an opportunity to respond to the arguments from the Jacksonville school and its owner, InfiLaw Corp., that the disclosures are misleading and would undermine the school’s efforts to recruit more qualified students and boost its bar pass rates.

“While time is certainly short and the risk of harm potentially imminent, Plaintiffs have failed to make a showing that Defendants should not be provided notice and an opportunity to respond before the Court makes its decision on the merits,” Davis wrote in his order.

Florida Coastal still has a chance to derail the ABA’s requirement that it inform all current students by July 2 of the school’s recent bar pass rates, broken down into quartiles, as well as which quartile of the class each student falls into based on their grades. The school’s pass rate  fell between 25 and 51 percent during the four exams in 2016 and 2017, but rose to 62 percent for the February 2018 administration.

Davis ordered the parties into a court hearing June 29—three days before the July 2 bar pass reporting deadline imposed by the ABA. While he denied the school’s initial bid for a temporary restraining order, Davis set an expedited briefing schedule for the school’s accompanying motion for a preliminary injunction against the ABA. The accrediting body has until June 25 to file a motion in response.

“Florida Coastal is very pleased that the court is expediting its motion for preliminary injunction, has ordered the ABA the respond to the motion by next week, and set a hearing for June 29,” said Chris Bartolomucci, a partner at of Kirkland & Ellis who is representing InfiLaw. “Because of the expedition of the preliminary injunction motion, the requested TRO is not necessary.”

The ABA declined to comment Wednesday.

Florida Coastal filed its motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on June 15, asking for court-ordered relief from several reporting requirements the ABA imposed in April. The school had already sued the ABA in May alleging due process violations, bringing claims that the organization’s accreditation standards are vague and unevenly enforced.

The latest motion argues, among other things, that the required bar pass disclosure is misleading because the pass rates are based on classes of graduates with lower academic credentials than current students. The school has raised its Law School Admission Test score and undergraduate grade-point average requirements since 2016, thus current students are better positioned to pass the bar exam than their predecessors, according to the school’s motion. Inflating current students’ risk of failure will hurt their studies and prompt some to transfer to other schools, it argues.

Moreover, the ABA’s requirement that the school inform admitted students that it has been found out of compliance with several accreditation standards will hurt its efforts to recruit new students with stronger academic credentials.