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A Georgia judge granted class certification to a group of 470 current and former Life University students who sued the school after it lost its chiropractic accreditation. Fulton State Court Judge Diane E. Bessen, in an order Monday, said it would be “unwieldy, inefficient, and potentially unjust for the Court to attempt to handle this many similar actions, on an individual basis.” Students have filed 10 suits against the Marietta, Ga.-based school, eight in Cobb County and two in Fulton. Bessen’s ruling makes the Fulton plaintiffs the first to achieve class status, beating out two Cobb suits that also sought class certification. The Fulton suits claimed venue based on the residence of some Life trustees. The plaintiff-students complain that their educational path was derailed and they were damaged by Life’s Oct. 20 loss of chiropractic accreditation. They also allege that Life failed to warn them of the school’s problems. The suit accuses Life, its trustees and the school’s founder and former president Sid E. Williams of breach of contract, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, fraudulent concealment and civil violations of the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Defense lawyers asked Bessen last week to delay her ruling and allow discovery to begin, to stay the case until a related federal case was resolved or to transfer the case to Cobb. The plaintiffs’ lawyers opposed all options, particularly the latter, which they said was an attempt to get a friendlier venue in Life’s home territory. They also pointed out that a Cobb judge is a trustee of Life. But Bessen said the case would stay in Fulton. She added that, “despite the Court’s concern regarding the existence of similarly filed actions in Cobb County, Georgia, the Court can not ignore the fact that this action is properly filed in Fulton County and that Plaintiffs’ counsel represent approximately 470 potential plaintiffs, each of whom are entitled to vigorously pursue their claims, in the venue of their choosing.” The Fulton plaintiffs, she found, met the criteria for granting class certification: they had sufficient numbers, they had questions of law and fact in common and their claims were typical of the class as a whole. The damages “that might have been suffered, due to the uncertainty of the school’s accreditation, is an issue common to these Plaintiffs,” she wrote, adding that “any differences seem to merely address the amount of any potential damages, as opposed to the similarity of the claims.” Bessen also found that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were qualified to handle the case. Lead counsel are Yehuda Smolar and Jeffrey L. Sakas of Smolar, Sakas & Goodhart. Bessen did not address defense complaints that one plaintiff’s lawyer, former Life chiropractic professor Dr. Joseph L. Hoffman, should be disqualified because he allegedly solicited clients for the case. Life’s attorney, Mary M. “Peggy” Brockington of Atlanta’s Strickland Brockington Lewis, couldn’t be reached. Last month, in a federal suit Life filed against the chiropractic accreditation agency, the school won a ruling temporarily restoring its accreditation.

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