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Student Loses Suit Against Law School

Joseph Rodi had his heart set on taking the New Jersey bar exam. Problem was, he graduated in 2000 from an unaccredited Massachusetts law school, Southern New England School of Law. So, like the aspiring lawyer he was, he sued the school and two of its acting deans in federal court, claiming they fraudulently induced him to stay with promises that accreditation was imminent. After U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner dismissed Rodi's case, he appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which this week affirmed the dismissal in Rodi v. Southern New England School of Law.

To prove his case of fraudulent misrepresentation, the circuit panel said, Rodi would have to prove not only that the school made a false representation of a material fact, but also that he relied and acted on it and that his reliance was reasonable. Rodi alleged that two of the school's acting deans, Francis Larkin and his successor David Prentiss, painted an overly rosy picture of the school's prospects for winning ABA approval. But even assuming this was so, the court said, Rodi failed to show that he relied on their statements. The most damning evidence against him: his "unyielding pursuit" of a transfer to an accredited law school, even after Dean Prentiss tried to talk him out of it. This fact creates "the powerful inference that he never relied on what the deans were saying regarding accreditation in the first place."

Rodi lost his suit, but the opinion suggests the law school may have been less than above board through all this. Just after Rodi applied to SNESL in March 1997, the ABA's Accreditation Committee recommended the school for provisional accreditation. That required ratification by the ABA at its annual meeting the following August, but Dean Larkin wrote to prospective students that he was "highly confident" of favorable approval. After the ABA turned the school down, Larkin met with incoming students in September and stated without equivocation, "The school will be accredited by the ABA the next time around and before you graduate."  The next summer, when Rodi sought transfer to other law schools, Larkin's successor, Prentiss, wrote urging him to stay, saying, "There should be no cause for pessimism about the school's ultimate achievement of ABA approval."

Yet even as these deans publicly expressed hope for accreditation, discovery revealed that both privately had concerns, the circuit's opinion recounts. After the ABA denied the application in August 1997, Larkin said he was not highly confident the school's renewed application would be successful. This was just before he told the students just the opposite. Likewise, Prentiss expressed concern for how the ABA would rule on the renewed application and said that he recognized SNESL was at the low end of the spectrum in terms of necessary resources.

Even with these revelations, the case came down to the questions of whether Rodi relied on the dean's statements and whether his reliance was reasonable. Given all the facts, the court concluded, "we are convinced that no reasonable jury could be so persuaded."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on July 2, 2008 at 11:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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