Law School Calls ABA Denial of Accreditation Antitrust Violation

     KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CN) - The Lincoln Memorial University Duncan School of Law sued the American Bar Association in a $1 million antitrust complaint, claiming the ABA arbitrarily and capriciously denied it provisional accreditation, to limit competition among law schools.
     According to the school's Internet home page, the school "announced plans to pursue a Doctor of Jurisprudence program when it acquired the lease on Knoxville's historic 'Old City Hall Building' in February 2008."
     The school's self-description continues: "Fast forward to March 2009 and the fledgling program had already achieved Tennessee Board of Law Examiner's approval to open and had begun accepting its inaugural class. By the end of that month, the LMU-John J. Duncan, Jr., School of Law, or LMU-Duncan School of Law (LMU-DSOL) for short, was building a name for itself by recruiting some of the brightest legal minds from all over the country to fill out the faculty. In August 2009 the first wave of renovations were complete and LMU-DSOL opened its doors to a highly qualified inaugural class. In the fall of 2010, LMU-DSOL took another step in its journey when it initiated a full-time day program to accompany the part-time evening program and began the accreditation process with the American Bar Association."
     The Duncan School of Law is part of Lincoln Memorial University, a not-for-profit university chartered by Tennessee in 1897.
     In its federal complaint, the school claims the ABA's unreasonable, anti-competitive intent is clear from its explanation of why it denied the school accreditation.
     "The ABA cites as a reason for denying accreditation the average LSAT scores of DSOL students, yet granted full accreditation to no fewer than eight law schools with lower average LSAT scores. The only reasonable inference from this disparate treatment is that the ABA desires to restrain trade," the complaint states.
     It adds: "Failing to secure ABA accreditation can entail tremendously negative consequences for a law school's students, who may not be able to sit for the bar examination in most states and may find the value of their degrees impaired, and for law schools themselves, which may be unable to attract law students, faculty, and staff, fail to secure financial donations and the support of the legal community, and may ultimately be forced to close as the result of a failure to secure ABA accreditation."
     The school claims its denial of accreditation was arbitrary and capricious and violated due process.
     "There is no factual basis for the council's decision. Indeed, this decision is actually contradicted by the undisputed facts in the record as found by the ABA's own site evaluation team," the school says. It claims that the ABA's decision was "also contradicted by the findings and decisions of two other accrediting agencies - SACS-COC [the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools - Commission on Colleges] and the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners ('TBLE') - one recognized by the United States Secretary of Education and the other an arm of the Tennessee Supreme Court."
     The school claims, "these accrediting authorities applied substantially similar standards as did the ABA's council to the same facts."
     The Duncan School of Law maintains that the ABA denied it accreditation as the result of an "agreement and understanding with certain accredited law schools that will benefit from the denial of accreditation to DSOL - not only law schools that may specifically compete with DSOL in the legal marketplace, but also law schools that would favor the denial of accreditation to new law schools in general even when accreditation would otherwise be mandated by the ABA standards and rules."
     In addition to $1 million in compensatory damages, the school seeks a judicial review of the ABA's decision, a permanent injunction ordering the ABA to grant it provisional accreditation, and costs.
     It is represented by Robert H. Watson, Jr. at Watson, Roach, Batson, Rowell & Lauderback of Knoxville.