Harnish v. Widener Univ. Sch. of Law, No. 15-3888 (3d Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
Named plaintiffs, 2008-2011 graduates of the Widener School of Law, claim that Widener violated the New Jersey and Delaware Consumer Fraud Acts by intentionally publishing misleading statistics, reporting that in 2005-2011, 90-97% of graduates were employed. In reality, only 50-70% of Widener graduates secured full-time legal positions. The school included non-legal and part-time positions without reporting the breakdown. In 2011, Widener improved its reporting, but allegedly continued to gather unreliable information by crediting secondhand accounts of employment and avoiding responses from unemployed graduates. The plaintiffs claim that publishing misleading statistics enabled Widener to inflate tuition. The plaintiffs moved to certify a class of “persons who enrolled in Widener University School of Law and were charged full or part-time tuition within the statutory period.” The district court denied class certification, finding that the plaintiffs could not meet FRCP 23(b)(3)’s requirement that common questions “predominate” over individual questions because they had not shown that they could prove damages by common evidence. The court noted differences in class members’ employment outcomes and that New Jersey has rejected a “fraud-on-the-market” theory outside the securities fraud context. Plaintiffs could not meet Rule 23(a)(3)’s requirement that the named plaintiffs’ claims be “typical” of the claims of the proposed class; students who enrolled in 2012 and later, after Widener improved its reporting, might prefer not to have Widener’s reputation tarnished by the lawsuit. The Third Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs’ theory was insufficiently supported by class-wide evidence.