As it turns out, suing may not be the best way to improve your grades. 

A federal judge in Texas on November 16 dismissed a lawsuit against Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law and a professor brought by two former students who flunked out.

The plaintiffs, Jonathan Chan and Karla Ford, filed suit in February claiming that their Contracts II professor gave them unfairly low grades, causing them to be dismissed from the school.

Judge Lee Rosenthal of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas was unconvinced that the professor or the school did anything out of the ordinary in either their grading or handling of the plaintiffs’ dismissals.

“Curved grading is a commonly accepted academic norm and does not demonstrate a lack of professional judgment,” Rosenthal wrote in her opinion. “Even without comparison to other students’ exams, Chan and Ford cannot raise a factual dispute material to determining whether their constitutional rights were violated. The record shows that, as a matter of law, [former visiting professor and defendant Shelley Smith's] grading did not depart from accepted academic norms so as to violate the plaintiffs’ substantive due-process rights.”

Neither law school officials nor Ford and Chan’s attorney, Jason Bach, returned calls for comment on the ruling.

Ford and Chan’s complaint alleged that Smith, now a partner at Chicago firm Brown, Udell, Pomerantz & Delrahim, tried to “curve them out of the class” and refused to explain how she arrived at their grades. Ford and Chan received a D minus in the class. Both were dismissed from the school in September 2011 for failing to maintain a 2.0 grade-point average—an academic policy that the law school made clear to students, Rosenthal noted in her opinion.

“There is some irony in two law students getting a D- in Contracts II class, then turning around and suing their law school for, among other things, breach of contract,” reads the law school’s motion to dismiss.

The final exam accounted for 50 percent of the Contracts II grades, and Chan and Ford each answered only one of the eight questions correctly. Chan and Ford were given a hearing before the school’s academic standards committee in which they disputed their grades, but the committee upheld their original grades. In their complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that Smith withheld information they needed to properly appeal.

“Chan and Ford do not dispute that, even before their final Contracts II grades, their academic performance was marginal,” Rosenthal wrote. “Their attempt to avoid the consequences by asking for a change of their Contracts II grades was denied because there was “insufficient evidence” to support the request.”

The pair had sought more than $75,000 in compensatory and punitive damages as well as reinstatement to the law school class.


Karen Sloan is a reporter for The National Law Journal, a Legal affiliate based in New York.