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Thomas M. Cooley Law School v. The American Bar Association

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

December 12, 2017

Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Plaintiff,
v.
The American Bar Association, Defendant.

          David R. Grand U.S. Magistrate Judge

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER AND PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION [3]

          ARTHUR J. TARNOW SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On November 14, 2017, Plaintiff Thomas M. Cooley Law School (“Cooley”) filed a Complaint [1] and a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order (“TRO”) and Preliminary Injunction. The Court held a Status Conference on November 15, 2017. Defendant American Bar Association (“ABA”) filed a Response [21] on November 17, 2017. Plaintiff filed a Reply [25] on November 19, 2017. Defendant filed a Surreply [28] on November 27, 2017. The Court held a final pre-hearing conference November 30, 2017.

         For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion for TRO [3] is DENIED.

         Factual Background

         This case concerns a law school's attempt to prevent current and prospective students from having access to accurate information about its accreditation status.

         Plaintiff Cooley is a law school based in Lansing, Michigan. Defendant ABA is the agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit programs leading to the J.D. degree.

         Each year, the ABA Council establishes Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools (“ABA Standards”). The ABA Standards set forth the criteria law schools must meet in order to obtain and retain accreditation.

         The ABA Council delegates authority to the ABA Accreditation Committee to perform “interim monitoring” to evaluate whether law schools remain in compliance with ABA Standards.

         The ABA last reapproved Cooley in 2014. On May 19, 2016, the ABA sent a letter to Cooley asking the School to provide the ABA with “additional information so that the Committee can determine if the Law School continues to operate in compliance with [six] Standards[.]” Letter from Barry A. Currier, Managing Dir., Am. Bar Ass'n, to Dean Don LeDuc, President and Dean, Cooley Law Sch., Re: Interim Monitoring of Law Schools (May 19, 2016). In response to the request, Cooley submitted additional information to demonstrate compliance.

         The Committee met on September 14-15, 2017 to review Cooley's compliance with the Standards. Following the meeting, the Committee sent Cooley a Letter and Accreditation Decision (“Decision”) on October 4, 2017. The Decision set forth the Committee's findings of fact and conclusions. The Committee concluded that Cooley remained in compliance with Standards 202(a), 301(a), 309(b), and 501(a); however, it determined that Cooley was not in compliance with Standard 501(b) and Interpretation 501-1. In its Decision, the Committee requested that Cooley submit a report by February 1, 2018 with all relevant information necessary to demonstrate compliance with Standard 501(b).

         Standard 501(b) requires that law schools “only admit applicants who appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.” Interpretation 501-1 sets forth factors to be considered in assessing compliance with 501(b).

         Cooley appealed the Committee's Decision to the Council. The Council held a hearing on November 4, 2017. On November 13, 2017, the Council sent a Letter to Cooley affirming the Committee's Decision and notifying Cooley that the Letter would be posted in accordance with Department of Education Regulation 34 C.F.R. § 602.26 within 24 hours.

         Upon its receipt of the November 13, 2017 Letter, Cooley emailed the Council requesting that the ABA refrain from publication and expressing its intent to appeal the Decision. The ABA Standards and Rules do not authorize an Appeals Panel to review the Council's finding of non-compliance with Standard 501(b). See infra pp. 6, Rule 4.

         On November 14, 2017, the Letter was posted on the ABA website in the Adverse Actions section.[1] The publication of the November 13, 2017 Letter is the subject of this action. Over the past few weeks, the Letter and information ...


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