Tuesday, August 9, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Unemployed Legal Aids Lose Battle With School

(CN) - A for-profit community college does not owe damages to graduates of its legal assisting program crippled by student-loan debt, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled.

Sherry Holsinger, Sandra Carpenter and Mary Yeater Murphy were high school graduates working in low-paying jobs when they enrolled in the legal assisting program at Mountain State College in Parkersburg, W.Va.

All three graduated with associate's degrees in 1992, but never found work as legal assistants.

They filed suit in 1998, ultimately taking the college to trial in 2010.

All three testified that they sent dozens of resumes, received no job offers and faced an average of more than $45,000 in student-loan debt.

College officials testified that they did not guarantee employment and that they had helped the plaintiffs try to find employment in their field.

A Kanawha County jury ultimately awarded each plaintiff actual damages of $20,000, plus debt restitution of $30,000.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed Thursday, finding that the plaintiffs could not prevail on their claim under the Consumer Credit Protection Act.

"Credit was not granted to the respondents by the college, which is the seller of education services, nor did the college grant credit to the respondents pursuant to a seller credit card," the unsigned opinion states. "Instead, credit was granted in the form of student loans by parties that are no longer involved in the case."

The justices also said that the trial court improperly found the enrollment agreement unconscionable, and that the plaintiffs could not prevail on a theory of educational malpractice.

"The respondents did not show that the college failed to provide the educational services set forth in the written enrollment agreement," the 20-page ruling states. "Therefore, we conclude that the circuit court's finding of a lack of consideration based on insufficient educational services is error."

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.