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January 2016

Dallas Team Secures Dismissal of Widely-Reported Federal Class Action

Dallas partners Bob Bragalone and Steve Lawson recently obtained the dismissal of a class action filed against their client Texas Wesleyan University by a group of 34 lawyers, all graduates of Texas Wesleyan School of Law.  When Texas A&M University acquired the law school in 2013, it persuaded the ABA to transfer Wesleyan's accreditation to it, making the representation that there would be continuity between the pre- and post-acquisition operation of the school. 

However, according to their class action complaint filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth, the Texas Wesleyan graduates experienced numerous inconveniences following the acquisition because, among other aggravations, "Texas Wesleyan" no longer appeared on the drop-down menus maintained by the ABA and other websites.  This hindered activities such as gaining pro hac admissions, job hunting, and refinancing student loans.  Wesleyan had failed to protect their interests in the acquisition, they charged, and A&M had repudiated them as alumni.

The attorneys sued Wesleyan and A&M, claiming to represent a class of 3,700 Wesleyan Law graduates.  They brought federal claims under the Lanham Act and Section 1983, and supplemental state claims for breach of implied contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, negligence, and interference with contract.  They sought full recognition as A&M Law graduates (including diplomas) and millions in damages and attorneys' fees. 

Gordon & Rees’s defense was in three parts.  First, the firm persuaded the Judge to stay the plaintiffs' pending motion to certify the class until it had considered defendants' dismissal motions.  Second, the firm's motion to dismiss presented authority that educational institutions do not owe graduates any duties in contract or tort and that Wesleyan could not be charged under the federal causes of action.  It also argued implausibility under Bell Atlantic and Iqbar.  Finally, the firm argued that this was one of the rare cases in which the court should exercise its discretion to deny plaintiffs the opportunity to amend their complaint even under Rule 15's liberal amendment policy.

On January 15, the Judge granted Wesleyan's and A&M's motions to dismiss, after having denied plaintiffs' motion to file an amended complaint a few days earlier.  In both cases, the court's decision went down the line with the law presented in Wesleyan's papers.

The case has been widely followed in the legal press and vigorously publicized by plaintiffs' counsel.  Several articles quoted the firm's filings for Wesleyan, and one passage was cited as the "Quote of the Day" in Above the Law: "Things change. Change sometimes causes inconvenience and disappointment for those not parties to the change and distant from it. Those minor results do not give rise to causes of action."  The District Court agreed, and client and carrier were very pleased with the result.

 

Robert A. Bragalone
Steven Lawson



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