Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law has ended its lawsuit against the American Bar Association, which it sued nearly a year ago claiming the organization unlawfully denied it provisional accreditation.
Rather than continue to wrangle in court, the Knoxville, Tenn., school is restarting the accreditation process, the ABA announced. Duncan voluntarily dismissed its suit without prejudice on October 29. A federal judge had stayed the legal proceedings while the school exhausted its appeals with the ABA. Now, Duncan has submitted a fresh accreditation application to the ABA.
“The ABA will send a site team to the school during the spring semester, after which the team will prepare a report of facts necessary to determine whether the school is operating in substantial compliance with the standards and has a reliable plan for coming into full compliance,” the ABA said.
The dispute began in December 2011, when the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar informed Duncan—which opened in 2009—that its bid for provisional accreditation had been denied. The council cited concerns over the school’s compliance with accreditation standards pertaining to strategic planning; academic standards and achievement; and the academic credentials of incoming students.
Two days after that decision was made public, Duncan filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, accusing the ABA of violating antitrust laws and asking for an injunction forcing the organization to grant its application. U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan denied the school’s request for injunctive relief and ruled that Duncan must exhaust the ABA’s internal appeals process first. The ABA later denied Duncan’s initial appeal, and was considering a second appeal when Duncan pulled the lawsuit.
Duncan’s dispute with the ABA became the focal point of an article in The New York Times that argued the ABA’s extensive accreditation standards drive up the cost of legal education.
The Tennessee Board of Law Examiners has given the school until 2017 to achieve provisional ABA accreditation; the move means that graduates may sit for the bar exam in Tennessee. However, without ABA accreditation, they are unable to take the bar exam in other states.
Founding Dean Sydney Beckman resigned his position this month, and the law school has brought in a consultant to help it navigate the accreditation process and meet ABA standards.
University trustee Pete DeBusk told the Knoxville News Sentinel that Duncan is determined to improve its graduates’ bar exam scores. “We’ve been told it’s very important that the board scores are good, and I think that will speak for itself in that we’ve prepared these students properly to where they could pass the state boards,” he said.
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