Florida Coastal School of Law

 

The American Bar Association has granted Florida Coastal School of Law a reprieve from disclosing its weak bar pass record to current students by July 2.

The ABA stayed a requirement that the school inform each student of its recent first-time bar pass rates in Florida and Georgia—broken down by quartiles—as well as which quartile of the class the student falls into based on their grades. Hence, there is no need for a federal judge to immediately step into the fray over the school’s accreditation status, according to a motion in opposition of Florida Coastal’s request for a preliminary injunction filed Monday by the ABA. The bar pass disclosure is one of several requirements the ABA’s accreditation committee imposed in April after finding the Jacksonville school out of compliance with its standards pertaining to admissions and academic support.

Florida Coastal first sued the ABA in May over its uncertain accreditation status, and on June 15 requested a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction enjoining the bar pass disclosure, a requirement that the school disclose on its website that it has been found out of compliance with the ABA standards, and a campus visit by an ABA fact finder.


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The school claimed the mandated bar pass disclosure would be harmful to students because it would inflate their true risk of failing the all-important licensing exam given that the current class is stronger academically than its recent predecessors. But according to the ABA’s motion of opposition to the school’s request, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar opted to stay the bar pass disclosure until it could consider the school’s 135-page appeal, which it is slated to take up in August.

“In its filing last night, the ABA announced that the law school need not disseminate on July 2 a communication to students that we contend is misleading,” said Kirkland & Ellis partner Chris Bartolomucci, who is representing Florida Coastal. “The law school is pleased that the ABA changed its mind, but it took filing a lawsuit and a preliminary injunction motion to get them there.”

Florida Coastal officials never asked the ABA to stay the bar pass disclosures before asking the federal court to intervene, according to the opposition motion. But the council took that step to “facilitate orderly review” of the school’s appeal after the school requested the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction. (A judge last week denied the temporary restraining order but expedited the briefing schedule for the preliminary injunction. The parties are due in court for a hearing June 29.)

“Coastal is not currently under any requirement to provide the notice—and any such requirement will take effect only if the Committee’s decision is affirmed,” the motion reads. “Given the stay, Coastal has no claim of harm that is ‘actual and imminent.’”

The ABA’s opposition motion is its first court response to a wave of litigation brought by the three for-profit law schools owned by InfiLaw Corp.—Florida Coastal; Arizona Summit Law School; and the now closed Charlotte School of Law—each of which have been found out of compliance with the ABA’s accreditation standards. The similar suits argue that those standards are vague and unevenly applied across schools.

The ABA’s new motion argues that Florida Coastal’s request for a preliminary injunction is premature given that the council has yet to reach a decision on its appeal. The ABA has spent more than two years raising concerns with the school about its compliance with the standards and offered numerous opportunities for Florida Coastal to demonstrate its compliance, according to the motion. And the council relied on “substantial evidence” of the school’s shortcomings in finding it out of compliance with the rules, it says. Among the red flags identified by the ABA:

  • The school’s first-time bar pass rate in Florida plummeted from 76 percent in 2012 to 42.5 percent in July 2017.
  • Academic attrition of first-year students more than doubled during that time, from 5 percent in 2013 to nearly 24 percent in 2015.
  • Despite increasing its 25th percentile LSAT to 145 in 2017, 30 percent of the first-year students admitted in the fall of 2017 were academically dismissed.

The motion also identifies several occasions when the law school offered the ABA faulty information. For example, it alleges the school told the ABA that its 25th percentile Law School Admission Test Scores was 143 in 2016, when it actually was 141. Additionally, the school reported to the ABA a first-time pass rate on the July 2017 Florida bar exam that was six points higher than the actual pass rate of 43 percent, according to the motion. (Lawyers for the law school said Tuesday that the ABA ignored the fact that the school quickly corrected those figures when it realized they were wrong.)

“No school agrees with the unfavorable decisions of its accreditor, and schools, like Coastal, are free to express that disagreement and provide additional context,” reads the ABA’s motion. “But an injunction takes relevant information from the people who need it most.”