On Thursday, Arizona Summit Law School was the third InfiLaw school to sue the American Bar Association in a month, arguing that due process rights were violated before and after the 2017 decision to put the for-profit school on probation.
The lawsuit, filed in the Arizona U.S. District Court, asks the court to set aside the ABA’s adverse findings and specific remedial actions, declare that the decisions were arbitrary and capricious, and grant an injunction prohibiting the ABA from applying or enforcing various standards against the law school.
Barry Currier, managing director of ABA Accreditation and Legal Education, was not available for comment at press time. In a May 16 statement released after Florida Coastal School of Law and the now-defunct Charlotte School of Law filed similar lawsuits against the ABA, Currier wrote that the accreditation process provides “meaningful opportunities” for law schools to establish that they are in compliance with the standards.
“Courts have regularly upheld the ABA’s law school accreditation process. We will continue to follow our established procedures and expect to be successful in any future litigation challenging the actions of the council,” the statement read.
The council placed Arizona Summit on probation in March 2017. Among the standards Arizona Summit was found to be out of compliance with were:
• 301(a), which states that law schools must have a rigorous program to prepare students to pass a bar exam and practice law.
• 308(a), which deals requires law schools to “adopt, publish and adhere to” sound academic standards.
• 309(b), which addresses academic support to give students a “reasonable opportunity” to complete their studies and become lawyers.
Also,the law school was found to be out of compliance with various parts of Section 501, which addresses admissions requirements.
Like the Charlotte School of Law and Florida Coastal actions, Arizona Summit is represented by Paul D. Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration, who is now a Kirkland & Ellis partner; Viet D. Dinh, another Kirkland partner who served as an assistant attorney general during same administration, and Christopher Bartolomucci, a Kirkland partner who served as White House associate counsel to President George W. Bush and was associate special counsel to the U.S. Senate Whitewater Committee.
And like the other two lawsuits, Arizona Summit argues that the ABA’s accreditation standards are “arbitrary and capricious” regarding its use of bar passage data to find that it was out of compliance. The complaint states that the law school is in compliance with Standard 316, a rule that deals with bar passage rates. Florida Coastal and Charlotte School of Law made similar arguments.
With the current version of Standard 316, there are various ways a law school can be in compliance, and no accredited law school has ever been out of compliance with the rule, Currier told the council at the October 2016 meeting in a discussion to tighten the standard.
Arizona Summit’s bar pass rate for July 2017 was 20.1 percent, according to data released by the Arizona Supreme Court, and its February 2018 pass rate was 19.8 percent. Florida Coastal’s pass rate was 47.7 percent for July 2017, according to data from the Florida board of Bar examiners, and 62.1 percent for February 2018, the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported. Charlotte School of Law, which closed in August 2017, had a bar passage rate of 34.1 percent for July 2017, the Triangle Journal reported.
According to a news release on behalf of Arizona Summit, the ABA denied the law school due process as it in good faith tried to demonstrate compliance with the standards. The action also alleges that the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar was under pressure from the Obama administration’s Department of Education to target for-profit schools or risk losing its accreditation authority.
“The ABA’s accreditation standards inherently are vague, indeterminate, and subject to manipulation. They constitute an open invitation for subjectivity, bias, and double standards in their application—abuses that we have experienced firsthand and are precisely what due process protects against,” Don Lively, president of Arizona Summit, said in the news release. “Compounding the abuse is the ABA’s refusal to provide any specific guidance on what a school found out of compliance must do to re-establish compliance.”
The law school appeared in front of the council May 10, the same day that Florida Coastal filed its complaint against the ABA. Charlotte School of Law filed its complaint May 15. Unlike Arizona Summit or Charlotte School of Law, Florida Coastal has not been placed on probation by the ABA. It has been found to be out compliance with various standards regarding admissions and academic support. Its last hearing was in March 2018.
According to Arizona Summit’s lawsuit, the accreditation committee found that it was out of compliance with various standards in December 2016. After the March 2017 probation decision by the council, the accreditation committee discussed Arizona Summit and other law schools again in September 2017. It concluded in October that Arizona Summit should remain on probation because it was still out of compliance with 301(a), 309(b), 501(b) and Interpretations 501-1 and 501-2. The committee also said it had “reason to believe” Arizona Summit was not in compliance with Standard 202(a), which mandates that a law school’s current and anticipated financial resources must be sufficient to be in compliance with the standards and carry out a legal education program.
When the committee met again in January and April of 2018, according to the lawsuit, it again found the school to be out of compliance with Standard 202. The complaint argues that the committee did not give an explanation for its finding, or state what the law school could do to come into compliance with the standard.
According to the law school’s Standard 509 Information Report for 2017, its median LSAT score was148, and it had a total of 199 students. Out of 151 graduates from 2017, 52 had long-term, full-time jobs that required JDs, and 23 had JD-advantage positions, according to the school’s employment summary. Full-time tuition at the law school is $45,354 annually, according to its website.