SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Illinois-based Higher Learning Commission cannot be held liable in California for shutting down profit-seeking Ivy Bridge University in 2013, a federal judge ruled.
In dismissing the school's claims Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti wrote that though the commission sends volunteer reviewers to visit branch campuses in California to verify that the schools exist, its California activities do not approach the level necessary to establish general jurisdiction.
"HLC has no offices or staff in California, is not registered to do business in the state, has no registered agent for service of process in the state, and pays no California state taxes," Conti wrote. "Further, HLC is not regulated by any California agency; none of its officers or directors are domiciled in California; and it does not conduct any corporate affairs in the state. Importantly, HLC does not accredit any schools that have main campuses in California."
Ivy Bridge was founded in 2008 in a joint venture between Tiffin University, a small private school in Ohio, and Silicon-Valley based technology company Altius Education. It calls itself an educational experiment to offer low-income, working adults access to affordable education. With Tiffin's backing, it said, students could earn an associate's degree online that they could use to transfer to a four-year university.
In 2013, classes were discontinued after the Higher Learning Commission ordered a stop to the Ivy Bridge program, amid public and legislative outcry over money-grubbing for-profit junior colleges. Ivy Bridge claims the commission grew nervous at the program's plans to seek its own accreditation.
Tiffin was ordered to sever ties with Altius or risk losing accreditation.
Ivy Bridge sued the commission for forcing it out of the education business for an alleged political agenda.
But Conti said Ivy Bridge's alleged injury would have happened regardless of the commission's visits to California.
"The acts in question - conducting accrediting activities at Tiffin and allegedly threatening to withdraw Tiffin's accreditation - were conducted entirely in Illinois and Ohio, without entering California," Conti found. "Further, Ivy Bridge's alleged injury was not tied to California, as it would have occurred in any state in which Ivy Bridge chose to locate itself and conduct business."
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