The Thomas M. Cooley Law School is, shall we say, not the finest in the United States: as the judge stated in MacDonald v Thomas M Cooley Law School (SD Mich, 20 July 2012), it has ‘the lowest admission standards of any accredited or provisionallyaccredited law school in the country’ and (not surprisingly) finds itself ‘in the bottom tier [in] every major law school ranking’ in the US. The ranking information it produces itself is met with ‘great skepticism, if not outright ridicule’. Perfect case, one would have thought, for a misrepresentation claim by a group of 12 disgruntled Cooley grads, who alleged that the law school had manipulated employment and salary statistics to suggest that its alumni fared better in the job market than they actually did.
Case dismissed, said Quist J of the southern district of Michigan. First, Cooley students don’t enrol in law school for the pleasure of reading Supreme Court jurisprudence; they do so in order to purchase a legal education that will result in ‘a lifestyle that they believed (perhaps naively) would be more pleasing to them’ – but which failed to materialise. This was a business purpose, so their claim for violations of Michigan’s consumer protection legislation had to fail. As for the common-law misrep claims, there was nothing objectively false in the Cooley employment stats, which reported percentages of graduates employed (not just in law, and not just in law firms). It was, in any event, unrealistic for the plaintiffs to have relied on the employment numbers and expected ‘bustling full-time legal practices immediately upon graduation’ from ‘arguably the lowest-ranked law school in the country’. Graduate salary information provided by Cooley was ‘inconsistent, confusing and inherently untrustworthy’, but reliance on it was also unreasonable given that these internal contradictions were self-evident: ‘the bottom line is that the statistics provided by Cooley... were so vague and incomplete as to be meaningless and could not reasonably be relied upon’. There can be no fraud where a person has the means to determine that a representation is not true, according to Justice Quist. In the end, this was a case where ‘hope and dreams triumph[ed] over common sense and experience’.