FORT WORTH (CN) - Law school graduates claiming they were disavowed as alumni after Texas A&M bought their alma mater didn't show that their rights were violated, a federal judge ruled.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge John McBryde dismissed a proposed class action lawsuit filed by lead plaintiff Kristin Brown, a graduate of Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, or TWU Law.
Brown's lawsuit claims that Texas A&M University refused to reissue law diplomas to approximately 500 TWU law graduates after it purchased the downtown Fort Worth law school in 2013 and renamed it the Texas A&M University School of Law.
The law school's graduates since the purchase have been accepted by Texas A&M as full alumni, have the updated Texas A&M school name on their diplomas, and are eligible to receive Aggie rings, Brown alleges.
The "pre-acquisition" TWU graduates sued TWU and Texas A&M for negligence, tortious interference and breach of implied contract. They also sued for a declaratory judgment allowing them to refer to Texas A&M as their alma mater without fear of facing trademark infringement claims.
When Texas A&M rejected the plaintiffs' request to reconsider, a dozen of them also filed a complaint against Texas A&M with the American Bar Association. The ABA responded that it has no role in student-school disputes.
Brown and others say they have been damaged because they "have lost the ability to easily show that their juris doctor degrees are valid to potential employers and clients, as their law school is no longer easily located on many lists of accredited law schools."
McBryde ruled against the TWU graduates for their declaratory judgment request, noting they admit they are using the Texas A&M trademarks in commerce and have not suffered any resulting consequences, leaving no "substantial controversy."
"Even assuming the existence of a case or controversy as to infringement, plaintiff's claim is barred by sovereign immunity," the 12-page opinion states.
The plaintiffs have also failed to show a violation of a "specific federal right" in claiming violations of due process, equal protection and other injuries under state law, McBryde ruled.
"This they are unable to do. Aside from mentioning in a conclusory fashion that they have been denied due process and equal protection, plaintiffs have not alleged any facts to support the allegations," the judge wrote. "They allege 'unequal and irrational treatment,' but admit that they are not in the same category as those they want to be treated like. That is, they graduated from TWU Law and they want to be treated like those who graduated from A&M Law after the acquisition by A&M."
McBryde questioned if Brown and the other litigating graduates would have standing in any event since "it appears that alumni generally do not have the right to interfere with the administration of their alma mater."
Regarding the state law claims against the TWU, McBryde noted the allegations only described alleged wrongful conduct by Texas A&M.
"At best, plaintiffs wish that Wesleyan defendants had done something to assure that A&M would acknowledge them as graduates," the judge wrote. "Plaintiffs do not allege that the Wesleyan defendants have failed or refused to provide them transcripts or references or help in proving that they graduated from an accredited law school."
Texas A&M officials did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Plaintiffs' attorney Warren V. Norred in Arlington said he was disappointed with the dismissal.
"But we are more disappointed in A&M, who said one thing during the sales cycle, and then something else after the sale was complete," he said Saturday. "None of us would have thought that it would immediately disavow all its promises and start pretending that it was established in 2013. While the pre-acquisition graduates of Texas A&M University School of Law will continue to deal with increased time to accomplish reciprocity processes with other states and other similar tasks, the biggest real problem is that our alma mater has deliberately decided to disrespect its alumni of the last 20 years and create an unnecessary division where none should be."
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