WIN A COPY OF THE NEW "A RUMPOLE CHRISTMAS: STORIES" By Issue-Spotting Defenses on College Admissions Class Action Complaint
Everybody loves criticizing a specious lawsuit. This was made all too clear by the comments generated by my description of the Fifth Circuit's recent global warming decision on this blog, the WSJ Law Blog, and the Houston Chronicle's Science Guy Blog.
And everybody loves a contest. (Witness the participation in Power Ball drawings.)
So today I'm happy to announce the first-ever contest at the Consumer Class Actions and Mass Torts Blog! It's like an issue-spotting exam based on a real-life consumer fraud class action lawsuit brought by a disgruntled student who failed to get into the college of his choice. Simply e-mail me a short outline of the motion to dismiss in 200 words or less by October 31, 2009. Sadly, this ain't Power Ball. Instead, the winner will receive a copy of the new collection by the late John Mortimer, "A Rumpole Christmas: Stories," which was reviewed well by Publishers Weekly and is being released on October 29. (By submitting a contest entry, you agree to allow me to post all or a portion of your entry on this site, along with your name.)
Let me set up the complaint, which was filed on October 20 in federal court in Chicago. Federal jurisdiction is premised on the Class Action Fairness Act. An Illinois plaintiff sued the University of Illinois and its trustees based on a May 29, 2009 Chicago Tribune article. Plaintiff alleges that the school -- in its undergraduate and graduate programs, including the law school -- used a "clout list" of applicants (also the "Category I List") "to reward high-ranking lawmakers and other politicians and 'very important persons' with discrete access to the powers that be in the University, by admitting student applicants who were favored by [the school and its trustees] and/or otherwise lacked the credentials and academic qualifications required to gain admission." Compl. para. 2. The complaint alleges that in 2008, the average Illinois freshman was in the 88th percentile of his class, while people on the clout list were only in the 76th percentile. Id. para. 18.
Plaintiff alleges that the use of this clout list was not disclosed by the school. (However, the "Counselor FAQ" attachd as Exhibit B to the Complaint discloses that "[b]eing a legacy can be considered in the admissions process . . .") People listed on the clout list also allegedly had an "informal appeal process" to have the school reconsider rejections, and this process allegedly was not available to other applicants.
Plaintiff was wait-listed and then denied admission to the school. He alleges that "[b]ut for the Defendants' omission and/or failure to disclose their creation, maintenance and use of a Category I clout list, the Plaintiff and the class would not have applied for admission to the University and would not have incurred an application fee [$40] and expenses related to same." Compl. para. 25. Plaintiff alleges that each year, 20,000 high schoolers from across the country apply for 7,000 undergraduate slots at the school.
The class is defined as:
All non-Category I applicants to the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana who, during the time period of 1999 until August, 2009, paid an application fee to Defendants in consideration of admission to the University and were subsequently denied admission to the University.
Id. at para. 28.
Plaintiff pleads 7 counts. Count 1 is breach of express contract, with the university catalog forming part of the contract and plaintiff's payment of the application fee being the consideration. Count 2 is breach of an implied-in-fact contract. Count 3 is breach of an implied-in-law contract. Count 4 is unjust enrichment. And Count 5 is common law fraud, with the school's admissions policy constituting "a false statement of material fact where it failed to disclose that political clout and/or connections would form the basis of a decision to admit or reject an applicant for admission to its University." Id. at para. 65. Plaintiff alleges that he and the class paid the application fee in reliance on these "fraudulent statments." Count 6 is for denial of equal protection under 42 U.S.C. sec. 1983, since those with "clout" were treated differently by a governmental entity than those without clout. Count 7 seeks an accounting. Plaintiffs seek actual, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorneys' fees and costs.
Should this complaint survive a motion to dismiss? And what are the school's best defenses?
Stay tuned, loyal readers! The results and the winner will be announced on November 2.