A New Jersey man has taken a Midwestern law school to court after it revoked his admission for failing to disclose a criminal record on his application.
Howard Mark Gorbaty of Westfield said in a suit that it was his “dream to be a lawyer,” but Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, “heartlessly expelled” him after learning of several cases in which he was criminally charged but failed to list on his application. He enrolled in the school in August 2018, but it revoked its decision a few weeks later, according to the suit.
Gorbaty sued the school in Union County Superior Court in October 2018, claiming he was never allowed to address the charges, and the school removed the case to U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey the following month. On Dec. 19, 2018, Mitchell Hamline moved to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or for failure to state a claim.
Mitchell Hamline asks prospective students on its application to list any times they were charged with violating the law, including traffic laws, but not parking tickets. The application states that the prospective student must provide the information even if the charges were dismissed, or the conviction was sealed or expunged. Gorbaty answered that he was never charged with breaking any laws, according to court papers.
But the school soon learned of several incidents that Gorbaty should have disclosed, it said in court documents, listing several charges. According to the school’s documents, Gorbaty: in 2009 intentionally drove his car into a woman’s yard to scare her; in 2014, he harassed a woman who was not interested in dating him via Facebook and text messages; in 2017, he violated a protective order by threatening the same woman; in 2016, he fired two shots at his neighbor with a .38 caliber revolver; and in 2018 he assaulted his girlfriend’s juvenile daughter.
According to documents, he acknowledged to the school that he was convicted for harassing communications and sentenced to 45 days in jail in 2015, and the next year was sentenced to six months’ probation on a charge of wanton endangerment. Both convictions came in Kentucky court, the papers said. The 2018 assault charge was dismissed, according to Gorbaty.
Gorbaty said in court papers that his omission of the criminal cases were “minor discrepancies” and concerned “past youthful indiscretions.” He claims he was not afforded a formal opportunity to address the charges, and said “most or almost all of these alleged charges were either dismissed or were legally insignificant.”
Concerns over the charges came after the school “shockingly, for reasons that are presently unknown,” dug deeply into Gorbaty’s application, he said in his complaint. “Had he been able to clarify these past minor indiscretions … this matter would have been resolved,” he said in his complaint.
Gorbaty says in his suit that “the right to formally appeal and/or to receive a fair hearing is not only a hallmark of American jurisprudence, but it is essential to a law student in an academic environment with professors who carry political biases and petty grudges against students, such as the plaintiff, who challenge the status quo.” Gorbaty brings claims for fraud, specific performance of contract, breach of contract, implied covenant of good faith, unjust enrichment and violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. He is represented by Morristown, New Jersey, attorney Christopher Luongo.
Luongo declined to comment on the case.
Mitchell Hamline said in its motion to dismiss, Gorbaty “cites to no contractual provisions providing him with these purported rights.”
The school is represented by Christine Amalfe of Gibbons in Newark. She didn’t return a reporter’s call about the case.
Mitchell Hamline said the suit should be dismissed because the court lacks personal jurisdiction, since the school does not have any “continuous and systematic” contacts with New Jersey.
In his application, Gorbaty, a 1989 Westfield High School graduate, says he graduated from Rutgers University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and a minor in psychology. His resume documented that he has been a “self employed auto mechanic” since 2002, and before that was a tire installer and auto mechanic at various garages and car dealerships. He said in his personal statement that he had a “lifelong goal of being a successful attorney” and hoped to practice “divorce law.”
According to Mitchell Hamline’s motion to dismiss, Gorbaty claims to live in New Jersey, but public records suggest he was living in Kentucky when his alleged injuries occurred.
Mitchell Hamline also contends that Gorbaty’s contract claims should be dismissed because New Jersey courts have been reluctant to impose contract law on the relationship between a student and an institute of higher learning. The law school also said Gorbaty’s unjust enrichment claim fails because it refunded his tuition payment. The consumer fraud claim against the school should be dismissed because there was no indication that it engaged in unlawful conduct, Mitchell Hamline said. “To the contrary, it was Gorbaty who engaged in misleading conduct when he lied on his law school application,” the school said.
Mitchell Hamline, formed by a 2015 merger of William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline University School of Law, is best known as a leader in the hybrid J.D. movement, which combines online and in-person course work. Mitchell Hamline’s predecessor school, St. Paul College of Law, is the alma mater of former U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger.