Higher Education and Law

Cooley prepares appeal of defamation-case dismissal

October 8, 2013
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Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Cooley Temple Conference Center is in an old Masonic temple in Lansing. Photo via commons.wikimedia.org

Thomas M. Cooley Law School plans to appeal the dismissal of its defamation case against New York-based law firm Kurzon Strauss — which had publicly accused the school of misrepresenting its employment data.

Employment data and defamation

Kurzon Strauss also followed Cooley’s defamation lawsuit by filing its own lawsuit against the school claiming misrepresentation, which was based on Cooley’s employment data reported to the American Bar Association.

Previously, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that Cooley did not fraudulently report any of its employment data and dismissed the Kurzon Strauss case.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker also dismissed the defamation case brought by Cooley, saying that Cooley had failed to prove “actual malice.”

Cooley is appealing the dismissal.

The appeal

“After a federal trial court and a federal appeals court both found the Kurzon Strauss misrepresentation case against Cooley to be without merit, it’s hard to reconcile Judge Jonker’s ruling that Kurzon Strauss’s unfounded accusations can’t be pursued as defamation,” said Jim Thelen, Cooley’s associate dean for Legal Affairs and general counsel.

Judge Jonker did not address the defamation, but ruled that the school couldn’t recover against the lawyers, based upon certain first amendment principles having to do with the law of defamation, according to James Robb, associate dean for External Affairs and senior counsel at Cooley.

“The judge ruled that Cooley is a limited purpose public figure for the purposes of first amendment law, and, therefore, Cooley has to prove not only that the defamation was made, which it was, but also that it was made by the defendant with actual malice,” Robb explained. “In other words, with knowledge that the statement they made was false or with reckless disregard for its truth.

“In the appeal, we will ask the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to review the District Court’s opinion, and we will be asking the Court of Appeals to reverse that decision based upon governing principles of law,” added Robb.

If the court were to reverse the decision, one possible outcome would be remanding the case back to the District Court and allowing Cooley to pursue the case towards trial.

Robb said that it’s important that organizations be able to protect their reputation from unfounded accusations.

There is no timeframe for the appeal to move forward at this point.

Law school lawsuits

Kurzon Strauss has filed similar lawsuits against a handful of other law schools.

So far, of the cases to go to court, all have been dismissed.

There are still cases pending in California, Florida and New Jersey.

Robb said, to his knowledge, none of those schools have brought defamation lawsuits against the law firm.

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