Alaburda v. Thomas Jefferson School of Law was the class action that spawned a wave of suits brought by alumni claiming their law schools duped them with misleading post-graduate employment statistics.
But the case, filed in 2011 by 2008 graduate Anna Alaburda, was dealt a major blow this week when a San Diego County Superior Court judge denied class certification.
The four plaintiffs had sought to certify a class of all Thomas Jefferson law graduates from 2006 to 2013 who live in California and consulted U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings when deciding where to enroll.
But Judge Joel Pressman ruled that there was no objective and reliable way to determine who turned to U.S. News. “In this case, determining membership rests exclusively on self-authentication, which seems in this case to be unreliable,” he wrote in his order on Monday.
Moreover, the Thomas Jefferson graduates chose the law school for a variety of reasons and don’t constitute a “well-defined community of interest,” he added.
“Given these vastly different reasons for attending TJSL and the differing weight placed upon the U.S. News & World Report article, there are significant individual issues with respect to reliance and causation,” Pressman wrote. Given that the plaintiffs had different employment outcomes, they should pursue individual actions rather than a class action, he ruled.
Attorney Brian Procel, representing the Thomas Jefferson grads, did not respond to calls for comment Thursday. Dean Thomas Guernsey, meanwhile, said administrators were pleased with the outcome. “The ruling supports our unwavering position that there never was any basis for a class action lawsuit of this nature against the Thomas Jefferson School of Law,” he said in a prepared statement.
The ruling raised questions about four similar suits pending against California law schools. Another 15 fraud suits filed against law schools across the country over the past two years have met little success. Cases in New York, Illinois and Michigan have since been dismissed, although the New Jersey case against the Widener University School of Law survived an initial challenge.
But California and its more liberal state consumer protection laws had been a bright spot for plaintiffs. Cases against Thomas Jefferson; Golden Gate University School of Law; and the University of San Francisco School of Law all survived initial motions to dismiss.
Attorney Jesse Strauss, who represents the plaintiffs in the Golden Gate and San Francisco cases, said Pressman’s ruling was little cause for concern.
“These cases are very unpredictable and there has been no uniformity among the courts in how they address them,” Strauss said. ”While I would have liked the certification motion to be granted, I don’t think the denial will have much impact as it will likely be up on appeal while the motions in my cases are determined.”