Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of a Lawsuit with Prejudice when the Plaintiffs Chose Not to Ask Leave to Amend Their Complaint

On April 6, 2012, nine graduates from DePaul University College of Law filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of themselves and all others who were similarly situated against DePaul. They were making claim that the university and particularly its law school violated the Illinois Consumer Fraud Act and committed common-law fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

The law school graduates claimed that DePaul published “employment and salary statistics that deceptively overstated the percentages of recent graduates who had obtained full-time legal employment with salaries in excess of $70,000.”

The law school graduates said they relied on DePaul’s statistics by entering law school and borrowing tens of thousands of dollars to pay their tuition and taking out loans to pay such tuition. The plaintiffs wanted DePaul to pay a percentage of the tuition they paid as well as the lifetime income they would have earned based on DePaul’s statistics.

The plaintiffs claimed that DePaul’s employment information from 2005, 2007, 2009 classes were misleading because the information included any form of employment, not merely that which required a juris doctor (J.D.), the degree lawyers receive at America’s law schools. The numbers that DePaul reported included were part-time or short-term positions. The plaintiffs alleged that DePaul itself provided such jobs to many of its graduates, which inflated their numbers.

DePaul moved to dismiss, claiming that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit failed to plead a deceptive act, causation or damages. DePaul also argued that the full employment statistics included those provided to the American Bar Association Guide “adequately informed plaintiffs that they were not guaranteed full-time legal employment with a high starting salary upon graduation.”

Lastly, DePaul argued that the plaintiffs chose not to show proximate cause from statistics or allege “any determinable damages.” The trial judge agreed and found that the graduates had not alleged any fraudulent misrepresentation or concealment by DePaul, any reliance by the plaintiffs on the statistics, any proximate cause or any ascertainable damages. The claim was dismissed. The graduates appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court.

The appellate court stated that the lawsuit did not include the employment statistics that the plaintiffs were relying on. This was unfortunate because plaintiffs were alleging that those statistics constitute a fraudulent misrepresentation or deception.

The appellate court noted that the trial court had adequate grounds to conclude that no fraud occurred, including that one-third of graduates with jobs were identified as jobs not requiring J.D.s. In addition, the graduates did not show full-time work was never specified and that the ABA numbers were more detailed and accurate, but did not directly conflict with DePaul’s statistics.

In addition, the appellate court said the graduates did not adequately allege that these potentially misleading statistics were even the cause in fact or legal cause of their law school debt.

The plaintiffs argued that the trial court was in error in dismissing the case with prejudice and now ask the appellate court to remand the case back to the trial level to allow them to amend their pleadings. However, the appellate court noted that there was no absolute right to amend the pleading and that the graduates did not request permission to amend their pleadings when they had the chance with the trial judge.

Where there was no indication that the plaintiffs ever sought leave to amend the complaint, the panel stated that there was no abuse of discretion in dismissing the complaint with prejudice. The dismissal of the class-action was affirmed.

Jonathan Phillips, et al. v. DePaul University, 2014 Ill.App. (1st) 122817 (Sept. 26, 2014).

Robert Kreisman of Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, business disputes, contract litigation and nursing home abuse cases for individuals, families and businesses for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Bedford Park, Chicago Ridge, Lemont, South Chicago Heights, Darien, Willowbrook, Skokie, Geneva, St. Charles, Cicero, Deerfield, Berwyn, Wilmette, Winnetka, Glencoe, Northfield, Chicago (Andersonville, Chicago Loop, Little Italy, Chinatown), LaGrange, Hillside, Hinsdale, Park Forest and Park Ridge, Ill.

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