The latest round in InfiLaw Corp.’s legal battle with the American Bar Association centers on whether its accreditation lawsuits should move forward while the accrediting body weighs the fates of the company’s two remaining law schools.
The ABA has asked two federal courts to stay the litigation brought by Florida Coastal School of Law and Arizona Summit Law School on the grounds that its Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is currently considering the appeals both schools filed after being deemed out of compliance with the ABA’s accreditation standards. The ABA is expected to issue decisions in both appeals no later than October.
But Florida Coastal asserts that its lawsuit should not be stayed because the ABA has imposed a number of requirements on it that must be met regardless of the pending appeal. An InfiLaw spokesman said Thursday that the company will file an opposition to the ABA’s motion to stay the Arizona Summit suit on Friday.
The ABA on July 27 moved to dismiss a third suit brought by InfiLaw’s now-closed Charlotte School of Law.
InfiLaw filed the three suits in May after the ABA found the company’s for-profit law schools out of compliance with its accreditation standards. The suits each allege that those standards are unlawfully vague and applied unevenly across schools, and that the InfiLaw schools were unfairly targeted for accreditation actions because they are for profits.
According to the ABA, the Florida Coastal and Arizona Summit suits are not yet ripe for judicial review.
“The court cannot assess the process afforded to Coastal before the process is complete, and it cannot assess whether substantial evidence exists to support a decision that is still under consideration by the ABA,” reads the ABA’s latest motion, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, where the suit pertaining to Florida Coastal School of Law is pending. The ABA has asked the court to issue a stay only if it opts not to dismiss the case altogether.
The Jacksonville school countered in a July 23 filing that the litigation should not be stayed because the school is still subject to numerous actions imposed by the ABA during the appeal process, including a campus visit by an ABA-appointed fact-finder and the development of a plan to come back into compliance with the accreditation standards.
“Because the committee’s decision imposed immediate consequences and requirements on Coastal that are not stayed by the pending appeal, the ABA’s argument lacks merit and its request for dismissal should be denied,” reads Florida Coastal’s motion.
Arizona Summit’s position is particularly dire. The ABA in June yanked the Phoenix school’s accreditation for numerous accreditation shortcomings—an apparent first.
The ABA council was scheduled to hear both Florida Coastal and Arizona Summit’s appeals last week when it met in Chicago.
Meanwhile, the ABA’s motion to dismiss the suit pertaining to Charlotte School of Law takes a different tack, given that the school is now closed. In a July 27 motion, the ABA argues that its 2016 finding that the school was out of compliance with the accreditation standards wasn’t the cause of the Charlotte’s closure the following year. Rather, the U.S. Department of Education’s decision to kick the school out of its federal loan program and the subsequent decision by state higher education regulators to not renew the school’s license to operate in North Carolina were to blame.
“Because the school’s closure was caused by the intervening decisions of two separate governmental authorities that are not before the court, plaintiffs’ alleged injury is not fairly traceable to the ABA and cannot be redressed by an injunction against the ABA,” the motion reads.
The ABA sought to have the three suits coordinated into a multidistrict litigation in a bid to boost efficiency and eliminate the risk of conflicting decisions across jurisdictions. But the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation denied the ABA’s request earlier this month.