Disgruntled alumni from three local law schools cannot claim their schools deceived them in marketing materials containing high employment and salary statistics, the 1st District Appellate Court ruled today in a trio of orders.
For several years, The John Marshall Law School, DePaul University College of Law and IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law each published post-graduation employment rates for their classes above 90 percent.
But that rate included graduates holding a job, not necessarily one requiring the time and expense of earning a law degree.
In one published opinion and two unpublished orders — each written by Justice Mary K. Rochford, each addressing one school — the panel found the former students did not show how the data was deceptive or how the data was the cause of any injuries.
Read the full decision here.
Alumni from each school filed complaints in Cook County Circuit Court in 2012, alleging the employment and salary statistics were “false.”
“However, plaintiffs pleaded no facts showing that the statistics listed therein regarding the percentages of graduates employed in the various employment categories, and their average salaries, were untrue,” Rochford wrote in the opinion and orders.
“Plaintiffs’ unsupported, conclusory allegations regarding the falsity of the employment information were insufficient to assert any deceptive act or practice committed by (the schools).”
The students argued the schools failed to disclose that data was collected by a voluntary survey. But because the plaintiffs knew the basis of the data, claims of deception fail, Rochford wrote.
The panel also found there were no allegations the schools referred to the broad employment numbers as more specific legal employment numbers.
“Plaintiffs’ interpretation of this generalized employment statistic as including only full-time legal positions has been found to be unreasonable as a matter of law by courts in other jurisdictions which have considered the same issue,” Rochford wrote.
A lack of specificity is different than misrepresentation, the panel found.
“The gloss placed by plaintiffs on that information, i.e., that it represented the percentage of graduates employed within nine months in jobs for which a law degree was either required or preferred, does not give rise to a cognizable claim,” Rochford wrote.
Associate Judge Neil H. Cohen dismissed the case against DePaul in September 2012 with a written order. The cases against IIT Chicago-Kent and John Marshall were both dismissed by Circuit Judge Mary Lane Mikva in November 2012.
In all three appeals rulings, Rochford agreed with Cohen’s order stating success in a post-graduate job hunt is the result of many factors, and the plaintiffs could not show how the schools’ alleged misrepresentations caused harm.
Justices Shelvin L. Hall and Mary Anne Mason concurred in the three rulings.
The plaintiffs in all three cases were represented by Edward X. Clinton Jr., Edward X. Clinton and Julia C. Williams of the Law Offices of Edward X. Clinton P.C.
The younger Clinton said he’s troubled by the ruling because the panel expected the alumni to show an affirmative misrepresentation.
“That means we’ve wiped out the omission side of the Consumer Fraud Act,” Clinton said. “You can get sued for leaving things out, and that’s confused in these opinions.”
He said he believes courts who have addressed similar cases nationwide have let down law students in general.
The American Bar Association has since adjusted its data collection so schools report the more specific data.
“I’m glad I did these cases,” Clinton said.
DePaul was represented by Lawrence C. DiNardo and Tina M. Tabacchi of Jones, Day and Norman B. Berger and Michael D. Hayes of Varga, Berger, Ledsky, Hayes & Casey.
DePaul spokeswoman Cynthia Lawson said the university is pleased with the ruling. The case is Jonathan Phillips, et al. v. DePaul University, et al., 2014 IL App (1st) 122817.
IIT Chicago-Kent was represented by William T. Eveland, Hal R. Morris, Christopher S. Naveja and Elizabeth A. Thompson of Arnstein & Lehr LLP.
Eveland said he believes the panel is correct and his client is proud of its work. The case is Rachelle Evans, et al. v. Illinois Institute of Technology, et al., 2014 IL App (1st) 123611-U.
John Marshall was represented by Bruce R. Alper, Joseph A. Strubbe and Travis J. Quick of Vedder, Price P.C.
Alper said he agrees with the court’s ruling.
“The statistical information that was reported was consistent with the ABA requirements at the time, was not inaccurate and was not misleading as a matter of law,” Alper said.
The case is Jorie Johnson v. The John Marshall Law School, 2014 IL App (1st) 123610-U.