The New York courts haven’t been friendly to a spate of fraud class actions targeting law schools, but the attorneys behind the suits aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.
They have asked the New York State Court of Appeals to review an intermediate appellate panel’s December dismissal of a suit brought by nine former students who allege New York Law School inflated its postgraduate employment statistics to trick them into enrolling.
The plaintiff’s legal team—led by Jesse Strauss, Frank Raimond and David Anziska—argued in a motion for leave to appeal filed on February 19 that the Court of Appeal—New York’s highest court—should weigh in on the case, given that several lower court judges have cited differing grounds for dismissing nearly identical cases. The New York dismissals also are out of sync with rulings in California that have been more favorable to similar fraud suits, they argued.
"There is really no guidance right now for other litigants and for law schools," Strauss said. "It’s difficult for us to advise them on the law, and the schools need to know what they can and cannot do in terms of marketing in New York."
That clarity is particularly important right now, as law schools facing a shortage of applicants grow more aggressive in their recruitment efforts, he added.
The New York Law School case was among the first of the 15 fraud actions against law schools around the country. (Different attorneys are handling the very first case, against Thomas Jefferson School of Law.)
New York County, N.Y., Supreme Court Justice Melvin Schweitzer dismissed the New York Law School case in March 2012—the first in a set of legal roadblocks the law school litigants have faced. Schweitzer ruled that the school’s employment statistics were not deceptive and that the plaintiffs’ disappointment in their careers was the result of the sputtering economy, not fraud. The state Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed the dismissal on December 20, while criticizing New York Law School for being "less than candid" about postgraduate job and salary data.
"The prior appellate court found that my clients alleged a wrong, alleged they incurred crippling debt because of the wrong, but then stifled their remedy by improperly dismissing the complaint without allowing my clients to develop a factual record," Strauss said.
A trial judge dismissed a nearly identical case against Albany Law School in early January, and Strauss said he was preparing an appeal. The parties were still awaiting a decision on the motion to dismiss their case against Brooklyn Law School, which Kings County, N.Y., Supreme Court Justice David Schmidt heard last August. A motion to dismiss their case against the Hofstra University Maurice A. Deane School of Law was also pending.
Similar suits have also faced an uphill climb in Illinois, where cases against DePaul University College of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law and The John Marshall Law School have been dismissed. There is likely to be a consolidated appeal in those cases, Strauss said.
Their fraud suit against the Thomas M. Cooley Law School also was dismissed, and is under appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
California has been the one bright spot for plaintiffs in law school litigation, with suits against California Western School of Law; Golden Gate University School of Law; the University of San Francisco School of Law; Southwestern Law School and Thomas Jefferson School of Law surviving initial motions to dismiss.
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