The Legal Beat
Embattled Law School Blames ABA, Education Department, Students For Its Legal Problems
Posted on Thursday April 27, 2017
The Charlotte School of Law has certainly seen better days. Between fighting for access to the federal student loan program and fending off an investigation started by a state attorney general, the law school also has to deal with four federal class-action lawsuits that were filed by law students and recent graduates after they found out that they’d be unable to secure funding to attend class because the Department of Education found out that the school had been placed on probation by the American Bar Association.
Each of the lawsuits contains similar claims, asserting that Charlotte Law should have notified students in a more timely fashion that it was in trouble with the ABA. The law school has an interesting affirmative defense. Here’s more information from Law.com:
The three motions to dismiss, which are similar, but differ depending on the specific claims alleged in each class action, argue that Charlotte was bound to keep its preliminary accreditation results confidential under ABA rules, and that any harm to students was inflicted by the Education Department instead. The school alleges that each class action fails to state a valid claim, in part because their breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims are actually claims of educational malpractice, which North Carolina law doesn’t recognize.
Rather than accepting any responsibility for this trainwreck, Charlotte Law is essentially blaming the ABA and the Department of Education for its problems. According to court papers, the ABA stayed Charlotte’s noncompliance disclosure requirements pending its appeal last July, and didn’t formally reprimand the school until November. Charlotte also claims that ABA rules say that such accreditation reviews are confidential until a final decision is rendered. (If’s that’s true, then perhaps the ABA ought to change its rules and mandate early disclosure — with the disturbing amounts that people have taken out in loans to debt-finance their law degrees, people’s lives are at stake. Access to information about a law school’s tenuous accreditation is critical and could mean the difference between stable financial footing and a lifetime of debt.)
That’s not all, folks. Charlotte Law is blaming its own law students for some of the very problems they’re suing the school over. Law.com has the details:
[Charlotte Law] argues that the plaintiffs were not harmed by the timing of the probation disclosure because they were already enrolled or had graduated at the time the council made that final [probation] decision. Those students had access to a wealth of information about graduate employment rates and admissions data through the disclosures the ABA requires every school to make annually, the school’s motions to dismiss claim.
Charlotte Law is arguing that its students’ claims are moot because they should have known that the school had questionable admissions practices, atrocious bar exam passage rates, and shockingly poor graduate employment rates because they could’ve taken a look at its ABA Standard 509 Reports and ABA-mandated Employment Summary templates. That is ice cold. This law school no longer gives a s**t.
Thus far, only one group of plaintiffs has responded to Charlotte’s motion to dismiss: “By failing and refusing to disclose the ABA’s adverse findings, admittedly material information, defendants collected millions of dollars from unsuspecting students, including plaintiffs, who would have avoided the failing institution had they known the truth.” When plaintiffs refer to themselves as your “unsuspecting” victims, you know you’ve reached full villain status.
Will Charlotte Law prevail in its motions to dismiss, or will “the failing institution” be forced to litigate these claims in court? We suppose we’ll see, but the allegations made in these suits are relatively brutal, and they could have staying power.
Staci Zaretsky is an editor at Above the Law. She’d love to hear from you, so feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.