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Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New York Law School Wins Round One In Stunning Fraud Case Brought By Former Students

Gomez-Jimenez et al v. New York Law School, ___Misc. 3d____, 2012 NY Slip Op (N.Y. Co. March 21, 2012), is a case that every, and I mean every, law school adminstrator must read. In fact, prospective law students, as well as law professors in general, should review this decision as well. 

The case was brought by nine former law students. Interestingly, they did not challenge the quality of the education they received. Instead, they alleged that New York Law School engage in unfair and fraudlent practices, fraudulent misrepresentation and negligent misrepresentation. 

In a scholarly opinion, full of cites to articles and an exhaustive review of case law, the court in a thirty-page decision dismisses each claim one by one and grants New York Law School's motion to dismiss.

Plaintiffs' theory was that New York Law School published misleading employment statistics which plaintiffs' relied upon. In rejecting this claim, the court viewed the plaintiffs as educated consumers and pointed to the poor job market for lawyers as reflected in their papers.

Apparently, plaintiffs believe that New York Law School statistics were misleading because it included all employment whether or not someone was working in a legally related job and whether the person was working full-time, temporary or part-time. Their claim is a bit hard to determine from a bare reading of the decision. In any event, the court concluded that New York Law School did not make any misrepresentation because they did not state in their published statistics that these statistics only represented full-time employment.

Frankly, I believe that is quiet a stretch. It is entirely reasonable for a law student to assume that statistics published on a school web site refer to full-time employment. Most law students do not go to law school in order to seek part-time employment when they graduate.

The court also gives significant weight to U.S. News Law School rankings and assumes that they are accurate. The court explains that because New York Law School does not rank high, plaintiffs could have evaluated this when deciding whether or not to chose New York Law School. The court states:

"One would think that reasonable consumers, armed with publicly available information from U.S. News that plaintiffs cite, thus would avail themselves of plaintiffs' own logic as stated in their complaint when it comes to evaluating their chances of obtaining the full-time legal job of their choice within nine months post-graduation."

What!! Even assuming that U.S. News is the bible, and it surely isn't even close, the U.S. News rankings is based upon several criteria. The U.S. News is not a placement bulletin. Also, the court is assuming that higher ranked schools have better placement rates. That may be true, but courts should not be in the business of making assumptions.

The court also errs, in my view, by stating that "before 2008 there was a seeming abundance of opportunities for lawyers at all points of entry into the profession, regardless of the law school one attended. . . " The court does not cite any authority for this proposition. I have been a lawyer for quite some time and the market has been quite difficult for lawyers as well as law students for quite some time-both before and after 2008. 

The court's most significant error is that because of the changing nature of legal practice "[m]andatory retirement ages are coming down." Excuse me, but mandatory retirement has been per se unlawful under the ADEA for years. 

To be fair, the also court makes some vaild points about the Great Recession of 2008 which is when most plaintiffs were in school. The decision is also well written. Plaintiffs also had a high bar to cross given the elements of each cause of action they had to prove.

I do not express any opinion about whether or not any of these mistakes are material enough to warrant an appeal. I have been an adjunct  faculty member at New York Law School for about 7 years and I do not know any of the players involved in this case-at least I don't think so. I can honestly say that everyone I ever met at New York Law School, including faculty and students, always appeared sincere and honest. I do not believe for one minute that New York Law School would intentionally or negligent mislead any student.

Mitchell H. Rubinstein   

Updates

New York Law School Press Release, here

New York Law Journal Article, here (registration required)

 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/adjunctprofs/2012/03/new-york-law-school-wins-round-in-stunning-fraud-case-brought-by-former-students.html

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Comments

The Court also reasoned the students were 'sophisticated consumers.' Based on what? The possession of a college degree. Countrywide and a whole slew of subprime lenders would have loved this Judge. A case of this magnitude mighr have fared better in the Southern District under diversity jurisdiction.

I still do not see the elements of fraud, but would have liked to see this proceed to discovery (and my guess being the school win SJ). Furthermore, the school's statrment of explaining the realities of the legal marketplace is a downright fabrication.
Former Dean Matasar would welcome all incoming students by saying everyone would have a job by graduation. This was after enrollment- so cannot used to establish reliance.

Fact is the ABA's mismanagememt is starting to surface, thanks to these suits, negative articles in The Times, and scam blogs. This explains the plummet in LSAT sitters and law school matriculants. So what does the feckless ABA do? Consider removing the requirement law schools include any such data.

This commentary comes from an employed NYLS Grad of 2008. Btw- dear any future law student- this is a pedigree obsessed field. The LSAT is the most important test you'll take in your legal career, should you still wish to pursue one.

Posted by: Sujan Vasavada | Mar 22, 2012 6:05:30 AM

While I'm certainly glad to see a crybaby lawsuit such as this dismissed, Judge Schweitzer's order can nonetheless be read as condescending and/or biased if considered in light of the many lawsuits being waged against for-profit undergraduate colleges with similar job-placement statistics.

The judge sees law school applicants as a "sophisticated subset of education consumers," implying that students seeking degrees from for-profit colleges are unsophisticated rubes in need of extraordinary state protection. That the judge is a law school graduate himself, of course, also raises the question of whether he may be unfairly reluctant to put law schools in the same legal and political crosshairs that activist prosecutors, regulators and self-described consumer attorneys have conspired to put for-profit colleges.

Life offers no guarantees to any holder of any educational degree. And as Judge Schweitzer writes, "not every ailment afflicting society may be redressed by a lawsuit." But if he and his brethren allowed themselves to be influenced by that axiom more broadly, America might re-embrace its once storied but now fading sense of personal responsibility and self-reliance, and it would certainly be a much more economically vibrant nation in which to live. Alas, too many judges have never seen a lawsuit they weren't willing to entertain, especially when their alma maters are not named as defendants.

Darren McKinney
Director of Communications
American Tort Reform Association
Washington, D.C.

Posted by: DarrenMcKinney | Mar 22, 2012 8:29:23 AM

But what about the plaintiffs themselves? The lead plaintiff described herself in the complaint as having a "thriving legal practice.". What more coukd she have expected from the published statistics?

And it is the plaintiffs who first said they relied on US News -- that this is where they claim they saw the employment stats-- it was not the judge who first brought it up.

Posted by: Daris | Mar 23, 2012 4:17:09 AM

Hmm very interesting post!

Posted by: Car Accident Ocala | Mar 26, 2012 6:36:25 AM

A crybaby lawsuit?? Law schools (all of them, under the ABA guidelines) blatantly misrepresented the employment prospects of attending their schools. They used very small sample sizes, because those most likely to report their status are the best employed, and then published statistics that made it look like an average graduate would be makeing $100k+ a year, when the reality was that anyone outside of the top had slim prospects for any job at all.

One can only be a crybaby if they knew the odds going in, and then complained when they lost. But when you've lost before you even started, that is fundamentally what fraud is all about.

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Posted by: mikky | Jul 10, 2012 4:46:49 AM

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