Florida Coastal School of Law Files Suit Against American Bar Association
Complaint Cites Arbitrary and Inconsistent Enforcement of Accreditation Standards
School alleges ABA's actions constitute an attack on diversity
May 10, 2018, 12:44 ET
JACKSONVILLE, Fla., May 10, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- In a lawsuit filed on Thursday in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, (Jacksonville Division), Florida Coastal School of Law (Florida Coastal) alleges that the American Bar Association (ABA) has acted arbitrarily in its dealings with Florida Coastal while applying its law school accreditation standards, despite Florida Coastal posting top marks state-wide in recent bar passage rates, as well as Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) passage rates, and the achievements of its nationally lauded National Moot Court team.
Florida Coastal is represented by former Solicitor General of the United States Paul D. Clement, former Assistant Attorney General of the United States Viet D. Dinh, and H. Christopher Bartolomucci, all of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
"The complaint filed today in federal court alleges that the actions the ABA took against the law school were arbitrary and capricious, and violated the due process required of those wielding accreditation power," said Kirkland & Ellis' Clement.
Florida Coastal has repeatedly asked the ABA for clarification, specificity and definition regarding specific actions it must take to demonstrate compliance with the association's standards, but the ABA has declined to provide such guidance.
Nor has the ABA acknowledged Florida Coastal's many recent accolades. For example: the entering credentials of Florida Coastal's Spring 2018 class were higher than, or equal to, 52 other ABA-approved law schools. Florida Coastal's first-time bar passage rate for February 2018 was 62.1 percent, fourth out of 11 law schools in Florida, besting highly regarded institutions such as the University of Florida. The school demonstrated a 97 percent pass-rate for the November 2017 MPRE, which ranked first in the state. And, its National Moot Court Team finished its 2018 competition season first in Florida, and 14th nationally.
Most importantly, Florida Coastal has won multiple awards for its diversity and inclusion, including The INSIGHT Into Diversity Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award, for the third year in a row. In contrast, the ABA has given a clean bill of health to law schools with lower entering credentials and demonstrably worse bar pass results.
Florida Coastal's Dean Scott DeVito explained, "The decision to sue our accreditor is not one we took lightly. However, when the ABA applies its standards arbitrarily, refuses to explain what a school needs to do to comply with those standards, and then goes and gives a pass to other schools with lower outcomes and entering credentials, our students and our alumni are severely harmed. We are filing this suit to remedy that harm."
The ABA's abuse of its accreditation authority is not new or isolated. In the 1990s, the Department of Justice brought an antitrust action against the ABA that resulted in an extensive consent decree. And, in the 2000s the Department of Education took action against the ABA because of its vague standards concerning bar passage. Yet undeterred, the ABA continues to apply its standards in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner.
Dennis Stone, President of Florida Coastal, said, "As the complaint notes, the school believes the ABA's posture in regard to Florida Coastal is based on pressure from certain former Department of Education officials to take adverse actions against proprietary law schools, such as ours. The ABA essentially is seeking to accomplish through an opaque application of its standards what it was explicitly forbidden to do by the Department of Justice consent decree."
President Stone continued, describing the core allegations in the case filed against the ABA:
"Instead of enacting clear standards where every law school can be judged on the same playing field, the ABA has decided to arbitrarily attack a law school that not only has better metrics than many schools in Florida, but it does so while assisting a large segment of disadvantaged law students in the process. For the sake of our students and the future of the profession, it is imperative that the ABA's improper accreditation process stops now, with the filing of this suit. I have worked amicably with the ABA for more than 40 years, but I have never seen such a lack of transparency and support as that demonstrated by the association in the course of the last two years. The ABA's decisions in regard to accreditation seem to be calculated efforts to win political points, without regard for due process, or how students will be adversely affected."
This release is in reference to case number 3:18-cv-621, Florida Coastal School of Law v. The American Bar Association et al., which was filed today in the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, (Jacksonville Division).
About Florida Coastal School of Law
Florida Coastal was founded in 1996 on the premise that a law school can and should provide opportunities for persons who may have limited access to a traditional legal education because of background, status, or historical disadvantage. The school is proud to play a leading role in helping to diversify America's least diverse profession. Since its founding, more than 5,000 graduates have gone on to practice law in 49 states, and several countries around the world.
SOURCE Florida Coastal School of Law
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