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Cooley law grads lose appeal in suit over employment stats

Posted Jul 30, 2013 12:10 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Graduates of the Thomas M. Cooley Law School can’t pursue a suit claiming the school misrepresented employment statistics, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals affirmed dismissal of the suit in an opinion (PDF) released today. Though the appeals court agreed with findings by U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist, its opinion lacked his turn of phrase.

Quist had said the statistics provided by law schools were so vague and incomplete as to be meaningless. “With red flags waiving and cautionary bells ringing,” Quist had written, “an ordinary prudent person would not have relied on the statistics to decide to spend $100,000 or more.”

The plaintiffs, 12 Cooley law grads, had claimed they wouldn’t have attended Cooley, or would have paid less tuition, if they had known about their dismal employment prospects. They had sought $300 million in tuition reimbursement on behalf of class members.

The appeals court said Michigan’s consumer protection law doesn’t apply to business transactions such as the pursuit of a law degree. And there was no fraudulent misrepresentation, the court said, because Cooley's statistics on the percentage of employed graduates were objectively true.

Cooley had stated in its 2010 employment report that 76 percent of its grads were employed within nine months of graduation. According to the plaintiffs, a reasonable consumer would interpret the statistic to mean the percentage in full-time, permanent positions for which a law degree was required or preferred.

The 6th Circuit disagreed. “The graduates cannot prove that Cooley committed fraudulent misrepresentation based on the ‘percentage of graduates employed’ because the graduates cannot prove that this statistic was false,” the court said. “The statistic does not say percentage of graduates ‘employed in full-time, permanent positions for which a law degree is required or preferred.’ ”

Though the school did tout an average starting salary for all graduates of more than $54,000 in 2010, the claim was made in a report that later showed that the figure was based on responses by grads who answered a survey, the court said. As a result, it would be unreasonable to rely on the salary figure as representing pay for all grads, the court said.

The court summarized its opinion this way: "Because the Michigan Consumer Protection Act does not apply to this case’s facts, because the graduates’ complaint shows that one of the statistics on which they relied was objectively true, and because their reliance on the statistics was unreasonable, we affirm the district court’s judgment."

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