Florida Coastal School of Law filed a lawsuit Thursday against the American Bar Association over the ABA’s apparent threat to withdraw its accreditation.
Florida Coastal, based in Jacksonville, filed the action in the Middle District of Florida. It is a privately run, for-profit law school, owned and operated by Naples-based InfiLaw Systems, which also operates Arizona Summit Law School in Phoenix and Charlotte School of Law in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In the suit, Florida Coastal alleges that the ABA told school officials in April that, while the school met its general accreditation standards, it continued to fall short of standards because of what were described as lax admission standards and a subpar ability to prepare students for bar exams. The school received a letter of noncompliance from the ABA late last year, but said at the time it was addressing the concerns raised, according to a Daily Business Review report that noted of 10 law schools disciplined by the ABA since August 2016, half were for-profit institutions.
Florida Coastal has retained legal heavyweights formerly of the administration of President George W. Bush: Paul Clement, his solicitor general; former U.S. Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh; and H. Christopher Bartolomucci, associate counsel to the Bush White House. All three are with Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, D.C.
“The complaint filed today in federal court alleges that the actions the ABA took against the law school were arbitrary and capricious, and violated the due process required of those wielding accreditation power,” Clement said in a statement.
“Florida Coastal has repeatedly asked the ABA for clarification, specificity and definition regarding specific actions it must take to demonstrate compliance with the association’s standards, but the ABA has declined to provide such guidance,” Clement added.
The ABA declined to comment, citing its policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
Like many for-profit law schools, Florida Coastal has long been criticized by traditional legal education institutions because of its business model.
In the lawsuit, Florida Coastal said it has been unfairly singled out because of an open-admissions policy.
“As a law school, Florida Coastal is committed to the professional preparation of its students, service to underserved communities, and accountability of the faculty for student learning outcomes,” the complaint says.
“The law school provides opportunities for persons who, because of background, status, or historical disadvantages, may have limited access to legal education,” the lawsuit says. “The law school strives to play a leading role in diversity in what remains America’s least diverse profession.”
The law school says it has about 55 faculty members and about 650 students.