Although criticizing New York Law School for being “less than candid,” a state appeals panel yesterday affirmed the dismissal of a class action lawsuit accusing the school of misleading potential students about its graduates’ success in finding legal jobs.
The plaintiffs, a group of New York Law graduates, allege they were misled about their post-graduation job prospects by statistics put out by the school suggesting that a large majority of its graduates found full-time employment as lawyers. The numbers included people who had part-time jobs or jobs that did not require a law degree, and the reported salary data was based on a small, self-selected group.
The school’s new dean, Anthony Crowell, has since made public all data the school provides to the American Bar Association and to rankings publishers (NYLJ, Sept. 27).
The suit included claims for violating New York’s General Business Law, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. It was one of 14 similar suits filed against lower-ranked law schools around the country by attorneys Jesse Strauss and David Anziska, and is the first to be decided at the appellate level.
In March, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Melvin Schweitzer (See Profile) dismissed the case, ruling that potential law students are “a sophisticated subset of education consumers” who can interpret the data provided by the school for themselves (NYLJ, March 22).
Writing for a unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, in Gomez-Jimenez v. New York Law School , 652226/11, Justice Rolando Acosta (See Profile) criticized the school’s marketing and said he “does not necessarily agree” that would-be law students are “particularly sophisticated in making career or business decisions.” Nonetheless, he affirmed the lower court’s conclusion.
Acosta wrote that while there is “no question that the type of employment information published by defendant (and other law schools) during the relevant period likely left some consumers with an incomplete, if not false, impression of the schools’ job placement success, Supreme Court correctly held that this statistical gamesmanship, which the ABA has since repudiated in its revised disclosure guidelines, does not give rise to a cognizable claim under” the General Business Law.
Essentially, Acosta said, while New York Law School’s statements may have been incomplete, they were not false.
“First, with respect to the employment data, defendant made no express representations as to whether the work was full-time or part-time,” he said. “Second, with respect to the salary data, defendant disclosed that the representations were based on small samples of self-reporting graduates. While we are troubled by the unquestionably less than candid and incomplete nature of defendant’s disclosures, a party does not violate [the General Business Law] by simply publishing truthful information and allowing consumers to make their own assumptions about the nature of the information.”
Acosta further wrote that the school could not be liable for fraudulent concealment “because plaintiffs have not alleged any special relationship or fiduciary obligation requiring a duty of full and complete disclosure from defendants to its prospective students.”
Despite rejecting the plaintiff’s claims, Acosta ended the opinion by saying he was “not unsympathetic to plaintiffs’ concerns,” and emphasizing that “the practice of law is a noble profession that takes pride in its high ethical standards.”
He added, “Indeed, in order to join and continue to enjoy the privilege of being an active member of the legal profession, every prospective and active member of the profession is called upon to demonstrate candor and honesty.”
“We’re very pleased with the decision,” said Venable partner Michael Volpe, counsel to the school. “The legal claims lacked merit.”
“The true measure of a legal education is over the course of a career, and any graduate of any law school would have to evaluate the value of their education after years, not just a few months,” added Volpe, a 1990 graduate of New York Law.
Jesse Strauss, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients would likely seek leave to appeal.
“The First Department is just wrong on the law,” he said. “The fact that they basically found that the employment reports were less than candid and incomplete cannot, as a matter of law, mean that there’s no GBL claim.”
Strauss said the last section of the opinion amounted to no more than “wagging a finger.”
@|Brendan Pierson can be contacted at email@example.com.