The fraud class actions targeting law schools around the country haven’t received much love from the bench.
Cook County, Ill., Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen on September 11 tossed out a case against DePaul University College of Law brought by nine graduates who claimed the school inflated its employment statistics to lure students. Earlier, judges in New York and Michigan dismissed cases against New York Law School and Thomas M. Cooley Law School, respectively.
In the Illinois case, Cohen wrote that the plaintiffs’ allegations of fraud were too broad, and that they had provided no specific evidence that DePaul had lied about its graduate jobs track record.
“While Plaintiffs argue that DePaul misrepresented their odds of obtaining employment as a lawyer with a DePaul law degree, Plaintiffs have failed to identify any statement made by DePaul which predicted Plaintiffs’ odds of obtaining employment as a full-time lawyer, which suggested that employment obtained by all recent graduates was full-time or well paid, or which suggested that Plaintiffs would obtain full-time employment as a lawyer or at certain salary within nine months of graduation,” Cohen wrote.
He added that educational institutions owe no fiduciary duty to students under Illinois law, as the plaintiffs had argued. And he rejected the argument that the school’s actions violated the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers.
DePaul University released a statement applauding the ruling. “DePaul College of Law provides students with a high quality legal education that will help prepare them for the next phase of their lives,” it said. “These are challenging times for job seekers, and DePaul’s Law Career Services Office is dedicated to helping our law students find careers that are right for them.”
Attorney Jesse Strauss, who with David Anziska and Frank Raimond is coordinating fraud lawsuits against a total of 14 law schools, said the DePaul ruling was disappointing but that the larger fight was far from over. Similar suits against Golden Gate University School of Law and the University of San Francisco School of Law both survived initial challenges, he said. The trio filed an appeal in the New York Law School case last week.
“The score is: law grads, two; law schools, three,” Strauss said. “And it’s only like the second inning. We are disappointed that the three cases did not move at the trial level and we will be appealing. It’s a long-term project, and we are proud of our work.”
In the DePaul case, Cohen agreed with the school’s argument that its actions did not violate the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act because they complied with the American Bar Association’s guidelines for reporting employment information.
Still, Cohen’s ruling may well prove a harbinger for similar suits brought in Cook County against The John Marshall Law School and Chicago-Kent College of Law. Motions are pending to dismiss cases against the remaining targeted law schools, with the exception of that against the Hofstra University Maurice A. Deane School of Law. Lawyers in that case are wrangling over the proper venue.
Regarding the DePaul case, Cohen also rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that they relied solely on employment information published by the school when deciding whether to attend.
“Plaintiffs, however, offer no authority standing for the proposition that prospective students or enrolled students may close their eyes to publicly available information on employment opportunities for lawyers and rely solely on the data provided by the educational institution in deciding to enroll at, or stay enrolled at, an institution,” he wrote.
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