Widener Law Defeats Class Status Again on Appeal

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By Perry Cooper

Aug. 16 — Widener University School of Law successfully held off class certification in a suit over fudged employment statistics ( Harnish v. Widener Univ. School of Law, 2016 BL 264524, 3d Cir., No. 15-3888, 8/16/16 ).

Certification was properly denied because the former students failed to produce sufficient class-wide evidence to support their theory that Widener inflated tuition based on those false numbers, Judge Michael A. Chagares wrote Aug. 16 for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Non-Legal Jobs Included

John Harnish and other Widener Law graduates alleged that the school intentionally published misleading statistics about post-graduate employment (13 CLASS 125, 2/10/12).

Between 2005 and 2011, Widener reported that 90 to 97 percent of its students were employed after graduation. But those figures included non-legal and part-time positions, the class action alleged. In reality, only 50 to 70 percent of graduates got full-time legal jobs.

The former students argued the misleading statistics enabled Widener to charge its students inflated tuition. They sought damages equal to the amount they overpaid under New Jersey and Delaware consumer fraud statutes.

No Price-Change Evidence

The plaintiffs offered no direct evidence that the Wilmington, Del.-based school changed its prices based on the anticipated effect their employment statistics would have on the overall market, the court said.

“The plaintiffs have therefore failed to propose a cognizable theory of damages that is sufficiently supported by class-wide evidence,” the court said.

The inability to resolve the damages theory class-wide causes individual questions to predominate over common ones, precluding class certification, the court concluded.

Stone & Magnanini represented the plaintiffs.

Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker and Lum Drasco & Positan represented Widener.

To contact the reporter on this story: Perry Cooper in Washington at pcooper@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

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