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Widener Law School 'Fraud' Suit Lacks Class Standing

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on August 17, 2016 3:57 PM

Widener Law School faces a class action lawsuit alleging that students were defrauded with deceptive employment statistics. Fortunately for the school, however, the Third Circuit recently ruled that the plaintiffs lacked critical commonality for such an action.

It's a major victory for the law school and marks another victory for schools defending disaffected and disenfranchised law grads. However, the suit is not dead; the circuit court ruling means that each plaintiff must pursue relief one by one.

Misleading Employment Stats

The suit harkens back to 2012 when a group of Widener Law School students sued the school alleging that the school used misleading tactics in order to lure them to attend. The claim was that the school had presented numbers to the students indicating that 90-97 percent of graduates were employed after earning their JD. Of course, the reality was that only about 5 to 7 out of 10 students were working in full-time legal jobs.

At the district level, the suit survived a dismissal but didn't survive a class-standing analysis. The lower court rather incorrectly relied on the following reasoning: even if there were fraud, not all class members either sustained common injuries or were injured at all (as at least half found full-time legal jobs).

The circuit agreed that common issues did not predominate, but the reasoning employed was different. Common issues did fail to predominate, but the lower court's theory was almost tantamount to condoning fraud so long as injury did not occur. This is wrong headed. Rather, if a tuition is charged based on false or misleading numbers, that should constitute a tangible injury.

Change in the Air

These past few months, a number of suits brought against law schools have really dominated headlines within the legal community. And so far, all have failed in court -- though some have gotten further than any others in history, e.g., the Alaburda case. Recurring accusations of fraudulent and scurrilous tactics have been lodged at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and various unaccredited schools.

But it's not as if accreditation is quite the guarantee of quality that it used to be. Just recently NACIQI made dubious findings and issued a recommendation that the American Bar Association be stripped of is accreditation powers for a year owing to the giant swell of underemployed grads who more likely than not should not have been admitted to ABA schools.

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