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Michigan’s Thomas M. Cooley Law School dodged one legal bullet this week but got hit with another — in two separate lawsuits involving a professor and a student. Cooley was on the losing end in the professor’s case, in which a federal judge on Monday declined to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that a former associate dean was fired in retaliation for opposing faculty nepotism involving a Michigan state judge. Cooley had better luck in the student’s case, in which a federal appeals court on Wednesday shot down a lawsuit alleging that Cooley failed to accommodate a student’s learning disability and ultimately expelled her — unlawfully — for poor grades. In the latter case, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Nahzy Buck’s complaint could not proceed in the federal courts because it had already been settled in the state courts, which dismissed her case with prejudice in 2007. The 6th Circuit noted that the doctrine of res judicata “bars not only claims already litigated, but also every claim arising from the same transaction.” According to court documents, Buck, a native of Iran, was admitted to Cooley in 1999 and later diagnosed with two learning disabilities. A doctor recommended the school give her additional time to take tests and allow her to drop a class to lighten her workload. The school honored the first request but did not permit her to drop a class. Buck received poor grades and was expelled in her first year with a 1.43 grade point average. She sued for disability discrimination. A state judge initially enjoined Cooley from expelling Buck and allowed her to return to law school. But by December 2006, her grade point average had dipped below 2.0 and she was expelled again, just months before graduation. In 2007, after years of legal proceedings, a state court dismissed Buck’s lawsuit without prejudice. She sought relief in the federal courts, but the 6th Circuit said her claims could not be heard. Buck’s attorney, Nicholas Roumel of the Law Office of Nicholas Roumel in Ann Arbor, Mich., said his client had “fresh claims of retaliation” that the state courts never even heard. “All she wanted to do was to become a lawyer,” Roumel said. “Now, there’s not a law school in the country that’s going to take her. It’s just heartbreaking.” Megan Cavanagh of Detroit’s Garan Lucow Miller, who represented Cooley, was unavailable for comment. In a separate case, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker of the Western District of Michigan on Monday allowed a retaliation lawsuit to proceed against Cooley. Former professor and associate dean Lynn Branham claims that she was ousted in 2006 in retaliation for her opposition to the hiring of the husband of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Jane Markey. Branham argued at the time that the husband, Curt Benson, was not qualified for the teaching position. The lawsuit alleges that Cooley forced Branham out by unfairly increasing her workload, though the school claims Branham abandoned her position. Branham’s suit originally claimed breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the last two claims have since been dismissed. In September, Jonker ordered Cooley to give Branham a tenure hearing — three years after her dismissal. A hearing was held in October, and the faculty overwhelmingly voted to uphold her removal. The school’s academic committee again upheld that decision on Feb. 19. Cooley then filed a motion to dismiss, but Jonker ruled that “the mere completion of a tenure hearing process” did not resolve all the issues raised in the lawsuit. Branham contends that the tenure hearing did not fulfill the court’s mandate. “I feel that [the tenure hearing] was in utter defiance of that court order,” said Branham, who is currently a visiting professor at Saint Louis University School of Law. “There was no standard of proof. The faculty members were allowed to vote before the meeting.” Megan Norris of Detroit’s Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, who is representing Cooley, said that the law school fulfilled the court mandate for a tenure hearing and followed its tenure hearing policy, even though that process was not what Branham would have preferred. “She claims that she should have been able to cross-examine witnesses, but there’s nothing in the [tenure hearing policy] that grants that right,” Norris said. Cooley did win a small victory in Jonker’s latest ruling. He declined to find the school in civil contempt for its handling of the tenure hearing, as Branham’s attorney had requested. Branham is seeking reinstatement to her position at Cooley as well as damages. “When you have tenure, that’s a job for life,” she said. “Despite what has happened, I have a great amount of loyalty to Cooley and I want restoration.”

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