Motion to Dismiss Denied in Lawsuit Alleging Law Schools Deceive Applicants to Enroll


With the economy firmly stuck in a “jobless recovery”, many students feel more pressure than ever to further their education in the hopes that it will make them more employable. Colleges likewise release and advertise the employment rate of their graduates to entice new students to enroll.

However, many students are finding that they are unable to get the jobs that they felt the colleges promised them. There are currently more than a dozen law schools facing class action lawsuits from students who were unable to attain employment in their field after graduation. Recently, six of those lawsuits have been dismissed by the courts, six have had their motions to dismiss rejected, and three have motions to dismiss which are still under review.
Included among the cases which have been allowed to move forward, is Harnish v. Widener University School of Law. The lawsuit alleges that the school publicized misleading and incomplete graduate employment rates in violation of New Jersey and Delaware consumer fraud acts.

Judge William H. Walls of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey pointed to the broad nature of the New Jersey statute when he denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The statute, he says, extends to purchases made for business purposes and does not require proof of reliance in order to be enforced.

Eight Widener University law school alumni who graduated between 2008 and 2011 comprise the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit. Initially, the court determined that the plaintiffs failed to assert any common law fraud causes of action. The plaintiffs then voluntarily dismissed their cause of action which alleged violation of Delaware’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

The two remaining causes of action allege that Widener violated the New Jersey and Delaware consumer fraud acts. According to the lawsuit, Widener violated these laws by allegedly:
1) stating that approximately 90-95% of their graduates secured employment within nine months of graduation;
2) manipulating the employment data to make it seem as though the overwhelming majority of recent graduates secure full-time, permanent employment for which a J.D. is required or preferred;
3) distributing false post-graduate employment data and salary information to various third parties (such as the ABA and U.S. News and World Report);
4) making deceptive and misleading statements and omissions about Widener’s reputation with potential employers, the value of a Widener degree, and the pace at which recent graduates can expect to obtain gainful employment in their field; and
5) making students pay inflated tuition based on these misleading statements and omissions.
The court agreed that, taking these allegations at face value, the plaintiffs have plausible claims under the consumer fraud acts.

The court concluded that the 90-95% employment rate posted on Widener’s website was indeed allegedly misleading. Although the statement may have been technically true, Walls agreed that it was plausible for a law student to believe that the figures referred to law-related employment. In making this decision, Walls pointed out that the figures were posted in a class profile which was sandwiched between “judicial clerkships” and “full time legal employers”.
Walls further stated that Widener’s website aims to persuade students to obtain a law degree through their program and that the figures were sent to third-party evaluators to establish Widener’s standing.

Without much further discussion, the court agreed that the plaintiffs had also pleaded enough information to withstand the motion to dismiss their cause of action under the Delaware consumer Fraud Act.

Our Illinois class action lawyers bring class action, privacy law and individual consumer rights lawsuits. We bring suit for many types of class action lawsuits for consumer fraud issues and for unpaid overtime, junk fax, privacy rights violations, property damages due to pollution, false advertising and other claims. Super Lawyers has selected our Kane, DuPage and Cook County class action lawyers as among the top 5% in Illinois. Our Illinois class action attorneys only collect our fees if we win or settle your case. For a free consultation call us at our toll free number 630-333-0333 or contact us on the web by clicking here.

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