Thomas M. Cooley Law School. (Courtesy of Cooley Law School)
A federal judge in New York has dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought against Thomas M. Cooley Law School by a plaintiffs attorney who helped spearhead a series of fraud class actions against law schools in 2011.
Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled on June 24 that her court lacked jurisdiction over the Michigan law school, despite plaintiff firm Kurzon LLP’s claims that Cooley advertises, raises money and recruits students in the Empire State.
Meanwhile, Cooley administrators were waiting to see whether the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit would revive the school’s own defamation suit against attorney Jeffrey Kurzon and his former legal partners, Jesse Strauss and David Anziska. Those plaintiffs lawyers kicked off what grew to 14 class actions against law schools across the country on behalf of recent graduates and alumni. A federal judge in Michigan dismissed Cooley’s defamation suit in September 2013. The Sixth Circuit heard arguments on Cooley’s appeal in April but has yet to issue a ruling.
“We see this as a positive development,” Cooley general counsel James Thelen said of Swain’s ruling. “I think this was the right decision for the court, and we’re hoping for a good result from the Sixth Circuit.”
Kurzon declined to comment, other than to say that he was reviewing his options.
In June 2011, Kurzon and his partners began investigating the veracity of the postgraduate employment statistics released by Cooley and New York Law School in preparation to bring fraud class actions.
Anziska posted a notice on the JD Underground blog describing the attorneys’ investigation and alleging that Cooley one of the “worst offenders” for manipulating postgraduate employment and salary data. The attorneys retracted the statement days later at the law school’s request, but Cooley sued all three lawyers the following month, alleging defamation and tortious interference with business relations.
The plaintiffs attorneys filed their class action on behalf of Cooley graduates in August 2011. A federal judge threw the case out of court in July 2012 and the Sixth Circuit affirmed that ruling the following year.
Meanwhile, Kurzon took issue with statements by Cooley president and dean Don LeDuc when announcing the school’s defamation suit against Kurzon and his then-partners to the law school community via Cooley’s intranet.
“We believe these particular defendants have crossed the line both legally and ethically, calling us criminals who deceive our students and steal their tuition money, and ascribing to us fraudulent student loan activities and default rates,” LeDuc wrote.
Kurzon countersued Cooley and LeDuc for defamation in New York almost exactly one year after the law school filed its suit against him and his former colleagues. In addition to defamation, Kurzon alleged that Cooley violated New York’s anti-SLAPP law, which bars lawsuits that target constitutionally protected speech and activities.
Kurzon argued that the New York court held jurisdiction over Cooley because the law school’s Google ads pop up during searches for New York law schools; because the school complies with requirements set by the state that allow its graduates to take the New York bar examination; and because Cooley recruits students and solicits donations from alumni in New York.
Cooley countered that it holds no bank account, real estate or addresses in New York, nor does it pay taxes there.
Swain sided with Cooley, finding that the court holds neither general jurisdiction nor long-arm jurisdiction over the school.
“Kurzon’s assertion that Cooley engages in false advertising in New York, even if true, is not sufficiently related to the specific allegations in this case to support the exercise of personal jurisdiction over the defendants with respect to the claims asserted in this lawsuit,” the opinion reads.
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