The American Bar Association wants out of a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former professor at the now-closed Charlotte School of Law against the school and its corporate owners.
The ABA on May 31 filed a motion to be dismissed from Barbara Bernier’s qui tam after she added the ABA as a defendant to her nearly two-year-old suit in May.
Bernier originally alleged that Charlotte and owner InfiLaw Corp. defrauded the federal government of $285 million by admitting unqualified students in a bid to pocket their government-issued educational loans. Her second amended complaint added former Charlotte student Ese Love as a plaintiff as well as a claim that the American Bar Association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and its accreditation committee were negligent in accrediting Charlotte in the first place.
But naming the ABA as a defendant is merely a “last-ditch effort” to keep the litigation going after a judge dismissed the majority of Bernier’s original claims in April, according to the motion to dismiss.
“Courts uniformly have held that accreditors like the ABA do not owe a state-law duty to third parties, such as students or faculty, affected by accreditation decisions,” the ABA’s motion reads. “Plaintiffs allege no facts that could take this case outside that line of authority.”
Bernier’s attorney, Coleman Watson, was unavailable for comment Monday on the ABA’s court response.
But in an interview last month, he said the ABA was “asleep at the wheel” when it failed to notice red flags such as the poor academic credentials of incoming Charlotte law students and declining bar pass rates. The school closed in August 2017, eight months after the U.S. Department of Education booted it from the federal loan program for running afoul of the ABA’s admissions rules.
Love would not have amassed $350,000 in loan debt had she known the school was not fully compliant with the ABA’s accreditation standards, according to Bernier’s second amended complaint.
“Nonetheless, the ABA awarded such accreditation anyway, and repeatedly ignored non-compliance issues,” the complaint reads.
In addition to its claim that accrediting bodies are not subject to state-law claims pertaining to accreditation decisions, the ABA argues that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida lacks jurisdiction in the case. The ABA is based in Chicago, and the decisions in question pertained to a law school in North Carolina. InfiLaw, which also owns the for-profit Florida Coastal School of Law and Arizona Summit Law School, is based in Naples, Fla.
Bernier’s complaint argues that the court does have jurisdiction because of the ABA’s oversight of numerous law schools in Florida and fees it collects from those schools.
Moreover, the False Claims Act violations Bernier alleges against Charlotte and InfiLaw are unrelated to the alleged negligence of the ABA in its duties as a law school accreditor. Finally, Bernier simply wait too long to add the ABA as a defendant under a deadline set by the court, the motion argues.
“Plaintiffs added the ABA as a defendant six months after the deadline in that order, yet Plaintiffs did not—and could not—establish any justification for failing to comply with the Order,” according to the motion.