Cooley Law defamation suit against law firm and bloggers critical of its job stats is nixed by judge
Posted Sep 30, 2013 10:33 pm CDT
A federal judge has nixed a defamation suit filed by Thomas M. Cooley Law School against a law firm and bloggers who criticized the institution’s portrayal of its graduates’ employment statistics.
Finding that the law school is, at minimum, a limited-purpose public figure, U.S. District Judge Robert J. Jonker on Monday ruled (PDF) that, as a matter of law, Cooley could not show clear and convincing proof of actual malice and granted a summary judgment motion by the plaintiffs, dismissing the case. The law school vows to appeal.
“After a federal trial court and a federal appeals court both found the Kurzon Strauss misrepresentation case against Cooley to be without merit, it’s hard to reconcile Judge Jonker’s ruling that Kurzon Strauss’s unfounded accusations can’t be pursued as defamation” said general counsel Jim Thelen in a press release. “We will pursue the case in the appeals court now, where we’ll have a new hearing on these issues.”
In a competing press release (PDF), founding partner Jesse Strauss of Strauss Law called the ruling “a victory for free speech.”
Meanwhile, although the Strauss firm has, so far, had limited success with the litigation it has pursued against Cooley and other law schools on behalf of individuals allegedly misled by inaccurate statistics about students’ post-graduate employment, the judge offered a zinger amidst a discussion of non-defamatory hyperbole.
“Further, the statement that ‘Cooley grossly inflates its graduates’ reported mean salaries’ may not merely be protected hyperbole, but actually substantially true,” Jonker wrote, citing two opinions in which courts had reached similar conclusions.
“MacDonald v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, 880 F. Supp. 2d 785, 794 (W.D. Mich. 2012) (finding that the average starting salary for all graduates specified in Cooley’s 2010 Employment Report ‘does not represent the average starting salary for ‘all’ graduates; nor does it even represent the graduates’ average starting salary for whom Cooley knew the employment status. Standing alone, the representation is objectively untrue.’); MacDonald v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School, 724 F.3d 654 (6th Cir. 2013) (‘We agree with the district court that this statistic is “objectively untrue.”’).”
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