We could have disposed of this lawsuit much more quickly by asking whether anyone, with half a brain, could believe the claims of a law school that once released its own rankings, based on chairs, which placed the esteemed Cooley Law as the second-best school in the country.
Besides, we all sold our souls for legal careers, only to find that there were no careers upon graduating. Just because Cooley is shameless doesn't mean you were ripped off (legally).
Or you could take the long way, as the Sixth Circuit did, when, after pointing out Cooley's lowest-of-the-accredited admission standards and awful retention rate, it analyzed the case in light of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, as well as the elements of fraudulent misrepresentation, silent fraud, and negligent misrepresentation.
Michigan Consumer Protection Act
By its own terms, and the Michigan Supreme Court's interpretation of the statue, the Michigan Consumer Protection Act applies to consumers, specifically the non-commercial kind. The Sixth Circuit and the district court's logic is mildly suspect here, analogizing the procurement of a legal degree to other business expenses, such as purchasing electricity for one's hog farm. Their rule seems to be that if there is any expectation that the education will better prepare you for money-making, the education is for business purposes.
Of course, that assumption, which ignores all of the intrinsic benefits of an education, is in line with the plaintiffs' own complaint, which alleged that misrepresented employment statistics led their career-seeking selves to sign massive tuition checks. As the district court quipped, they, "did not purchase a Cooley legal education so that they could leisurely read and understand Supreme Court Reports[.]"
Fraud and Misrepresentation Claims
We were half-joking about the Cooley rankings earlier, but other than that oddity, and sponsoring a minor league baseball stadium, their practices differed little from most other law schools over the past few years, especially in regards to two important employment statistics: average starting salary and percentage of graduates employed.
The court notes that technically, on the salary statistic, the school did make a misrepresentation, calling the statistic the "average starting salary for all graduates," when the statistic only included the graduates who responded to the survey (approximately 83.5 percent of the graduating class). Then again, the title of the document was "Employment Report and Salary Survey," which implies sample sizes. Taking those numbers as gospel is textbook unreasonable reliance.
The plaintiffs also argue that the "percentage of graduates employed" statistic was a misrepresentation because it counted all employment, in aggregate, from phone book distribution manager (one of the plaintiffs) to seasoned litigator (apparently none of the plaintiffs). The court, however, pointed out that the statistic was technically true, and that basic logic would imply that a static by that overly-broad name included all employment in aggregate, not just the ever-elusive, full-time, bar passage and J.D. required, Clarence Darrow-esque gig.
Besides, it wasn't just Cooley that was aggregating stats -- all the cool kids were doing it.
- MacDonald, et al. v. Thomas M. Cooley Law Sch. (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Cooley law grads lose appeal over tuition, jobs (Associated Press)
- Thomas M. Cooley Law School Sues Law Firm, Bloggers for Defamation (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)