A state judge has dismissed a proposed class action brought against New York Law School by nine alumni who claimed the school misrepresented its graduates’ success in finding legal jobs.
“In this court’s view, the issues posed by this case exemplify the adage that not every ailment afflicting society may be redressed by a lawsuit,” Manhattan Acting Justice Supreme Court Judge Melvin L. Schweitzer (See Profile) ruled on March 21.
Justice Schweitzer wrote that the nine plaintiffs decided to attend law school before the “full effects of the [economic] maelstrom hit, and have now turned their disappointment and angst on their law school for not adequately anticipating the possibility of the supervening storm and presenting the most complete job-related data that could possibly have been compiled.”
Gomez-Jimenez v. New York Law School, 652226/11, was one of 14 similar cases brought by a coalition of plaintiffs’ attorneys against law schools around the country, and the first of those to be considered for dismissal by a judge. Those attorneys have threatened another 20 law schools with litigation. A similar suit against Thomas Jefferson School of Law brought by different attorneys in California survived an earlier motion to dismiss.
“I think that for any further cases in New York, it’s going to be very difficult for any plaintiffs’ counsel to proceed,” said Venable partner Michael Volpe, who represented New York Law School. “We will look at the implications for other jurisdictions.”
David Anziska, who with fellow New York solo practitioners Jesse Strauss and Frank Raimond represents the New York Law School plaintiffs, was undaunted.
“Obviously, while we respect the decision, we strongly disagree with it and we will immediately appeal, where we expect the decision to be reversed,” Mr. Anziska said.
Both sides spent two hours in oral arguments before Justice Schweitzer on March 12 regarding the school’s motion to dismiss (NYLJ, March 13).
The plaintiffs alleged that they were lured to enroll by misleading postgraduate employment statistics published by the school. They filed suit in August, claiming that the school committed fraud and negligent misrepresentation, and violated the state’s general business law regarding deceptive acts and practices (NYLJ, Aug. 11, 2011).
In his ruling, Justice Schweitzer wrote that the school’s job statistics were not deceptive and that prospective students had access to ample information in addition to those data.
“The court does not view these post-graduate employment statistics to be misleading in a material way for a reasonable consumer acting reasonably,” he wrote. “By anyone’s definition, reasonable consumers—college graduates—seriously considering law school are a sophisticated subset of education consumers, capable of sifting through data and weighing alternatives before making a decision regarding their post-college options, such as applying for professional school.”
Justice Schweitzer wrote that the plaintiffs failed to provide “any factual reference” in support of their “litany of allegedly false representations and omission of material fact.”
The plaintiffs had argued that damages should be based on the difference between the amount the students paid in tuition and the true value of their law degrees; they sought $225 million.
That argument carried little weight with Justice Schweitzer, who wrote that they failed to demonstrate any injury. Any attempt to measure damages in the manner the plaintiffs proposed would be speculative, he said.
Justice Schweitzer noted that he has encountered many “outstanding” law graduates who have passed the bar but have been unable to find legal employment. “If lawsuits such as this have done nothing else, they have served to focus the attention of all constituents on this current problem facing the legal profession,” he wrote.
New York Law School issued a statement thanking faculty, students and alumni for their support.
“New York Law School works hard to communicate the realities of the legal job market to current and prospective students,” the school said. “We will continue to provide an excellent legal education to our students, and to support our students and graduates as they embark on their professional careers.”
Thomas M. Cooley Law School, which the plaintiffs’ team sued at the same time as New York Law School, has filed a motion to dismiss and expects a hearing to be scheduled soon, said general counsel James Thelen.
Other New York schools facing suit were Albany Law School of Union University, Brooklyn Law School and Hofstra University Maurice A. Deane School of Law.
Despite the setback, Mr. Anziska said that the plaintiffs’ team fully intends to pursue the existing cases. He pointed to a California judge’s earlier refusal to dismiss the similar complaint against Thomas Jefferson School of Law. That judge ruled that prospective law students did not constitute “reasonable consumers.”
“We fully intend to press forward with all the other litigation,” Mr. Anziska said. “This is just one decision.”
@|Karen Sloan is a reporter for The National Law Journal, an affiliate. She can be contacted at email@example.com.