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No Class Certification for Online College Scam Suit

(CN) - A federal judge in Texas refused to certify a class action against Westwood College and its parent Alta College, for-profit institutions that allegedly failed to register with a state workforce commission, finding that the proposed named plaintiff seemed to be "little more than a bystander" in the case.

Courtland Walker and the Tampa, Fla.-based law firm James, Hoyer, Newcomer, Smiljanich & Yanchunis accused Alta College, Westwood College, Trav Corp., Westwood College Online and Wesgray Corp. in 2009 of enrolling students in online college programs without first obtaining a certificate of approval from the Texas Workforce Commission.

The law firm has also filed class actions in Wisconsin state court, California state court and Colorado federal court alleging that the for-profit schools have wrongfully induced students into enrolling in expensive programs.

In a Dec. 29, 2010, opinion in Austin, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel found that Walker knew little about the case and was not a proper class representative.

"The court finds that the evidence presented, in particular Walker's deposition testimony, strongly suggest that Walker derived most, if not all, of his knowledge and understanding of this case from his attorneys," Yeakel wrote. "He appears to be little more than bystander to this litigation. As Walker has not persuaded the court of his ability to direct and exercise control over the litigation, the court will decline to certify Walker as a class representative."

Walker claimed that he was contracted by an admissions representative from Westwood College Online in 2007 while searching for online colleges. He enrolled in the college's graphic design and multimedia program, but later fought with the college over the cost of tuition and the fact that he had missed coursework after Hurricane Ike. Two and a half terms at the school cost him about $17,000, according to the ruling.

"In particular, at his deposition, Walker represented that he did not know whether any major events had happened in the case, could not recall the named defendants in the case, could not recall the exact claims that he has asserted, and did not know what was going on in the case at the time," Yeakel wrote.

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