Western Culinary Inst./Le Cordon Bleu Portland–Settlement Approved

I’m pleased to report that settlement of our longest running class action received final approval. The case, Surrett v. Western Culinary was filed in March of 2008. (No that’s not a typo.) Under the settlement. people who made claims will receive refunds of 44 percent. In addition, any debts owed directly to the school have been written off. And the defendants have to pay fees and costs, so the full refund amount goes to the former student.

We’re pleased with the settlement and happy to report that the court approved it in full.

The judgment was entered today (one of the last big hurdles), and we now know that payments will be mailed out on August 10, 2018.

We’re still moving forward with individual arbitrations for those former class members who have to go to arbitration first. We expect to file hundreds of arbitration cases. We will see those through to the end, no matter how long it takes.

Thanks for your patience-

David

Settlement: Le Cordon Bleu/Western Culinary and Career Education Corp.

It only took 10 years. Late yesterday, we agreed to settle our consumer fraud class action against Western Culinary Institute, Le Cordon Bleu-Portland, and Career Education Corp.

Under the settlement, class members will get refunds of 44 percent of the amounts that they paid for tuition, books, and fees. The 44 percent is reduced for class members who owe money directly to the school. (That reduction does NOT apply to student loans; it’s only if you owed money directly to the school.) The settlement must be approved by the court, so it is not a done deal, and we still have far to go.

There are some other features to the settlement. About $1 million in debts owed by students back to the school will be wiped clean. The defendants will pay attorney fees on top of the refund amounts. The Court will decide how much in attorney fees we will receive.

There is one other feature that is kind of a big deal. In the world of student loans, a borrower can defend against a collection action by raising the fraud of the school. Under the settlement, class members can still litigate the fraud of the school as a defense to loans. Also, they can use the information that we gathered over the last 10 years to help defend against collection actions. It is possible that former students could have their loan balances wiped away.

The student loan wipe-away is something that class members will have to undertake on their own–Sallie Mae and Navient were not parties to this case. Class members who want to pursue that option will need to hire their own student-loan defense lawyers. If you’re in Oregon, Washington, or Idaho, we can provide a reference.

So if you’ve read this far, you probably want to know how much and when. If all goes well, payment would be sometime this summer. But it could be delayed. As far as how much, it’s simply math. If you paid $40,000 toward an associates degree–many paid more–and you don’t owe money back to the school, your 44 percent refund would pay back $17,600.

To get the money, you will need to file a claim. Claim forms should be going out in March. Once the claim period starts, you will have 90 days to file your claim. If you don’t file it by then, you lose your right to make a claim, and Career Education Corp. gets to keep the money. We don’t want that to happen! So we’ll be working with you to make sure that you get your claim filed.

Also, this settlement doesn’t apply to those who have to go to arbitration. If you’re in the arbitration group, we can continue to help you, but you have to help us help you. We are pursuing refunds for the arbitration group and will do whatever is necessary to achieve a recovery. If you’re a member of the arbitration group and haven’t done so, please sign up through our portal. There are deadlines for filing for arbitration. If you don’t take action, your rights will be lost.

So that’s the story. We’re pleased with our progress and this development. And of course, we will continue forward.

-David

Update: Class members’ brief filed in consumer fraud case against Career Ed Corp and Western Culinary Institute

On our long-running consumer fraud class action against Career Education Corp and Western Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu Portland, I am pleased to report that we filed our answering brief in the Oregon Court of Appeals today. It’s a monster, and if the WordPress Gods are with me, it appears in PDF here: Brief – Answering FINAL

My dear friend and colleague, Maureen Leonard, joined our team to handle the briefing. The brief is her work, and it is a thing of beauty.

About the brief:

For consumers and class members-This is a technical brief on rules about procedure, appeals, and arbitration that might cause you to snooze. The gist is that Career Education Corp. was content to use the court system to enforce its rights and then when things were going bad, CEC sought to delay by filing another motion to compel arbitration.

For attorneys-The posture is such that this is something of a one-off brief and case. Still, if you want to see an appellate master at work, read Maureen’s work.

So next up is CEC/WCI/LCB-Portland reply brief. And then it is on to oral argument in front of a three-judge panel. We’ll keep you posted, of course.

David Sugerman

Sallie Mae collections against Western Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu Portland students?

In our ongoing case against Career Education Corp. and Western Culinary Institute/ Le Cordon Bleu Portland, we’re continuing our work on the appeal. Background here.

There is an interesting development that may or may not be related. We’re hearing occasional reports that Sallie Mae may be upping its collection activities.

Sallie Mae recently sued a family from the Southern California culinary school in court. We also know that Sallie Mae has been contacting WCI/Le Cordon Bleu Portland students about outstanding balances.

The team is on the lookout for cases in which Sallie Mae has filed a collection lawsuits in court against Western Culinary/Le Cordon Bleu-Portland graduates.  If Sallie Mae starts to sue Oregon culinary students in Oregon court, we want to hear about it. It could have major impact on our case and help many, many graduates of Western Culinary/Le Cordon Bleu Portland.

So this is a bit of a reach out to WCI/Le Cordon Bleu-Portland graduates: If you are sued in a collections case by Sallie Mae, please call or contact us immediately. While it would certainly be a frightening prospect if Sallie Mae sues, it may provide us with significant opportunities.

If you are sued, it is very important that you act act quickly upon receipt of the papers. Usually we have 30 days from the date you are served within which to file an appearance. So that would make quick action important.

Because of the importance of this issue, feel free to circulate this to other graduates of Western Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu Portland who are facing collections from Sallie Mae.

Meanwhile, we continue our work on the case against CEC. They may have slowed down the process, but we remain confident that they will face their day of reckoning.

David Sugerman

 

Update: Career Education Corp files its appeal brief

For those interested, Career Education Corp and Western Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu Portland filed their appeal brief in our long-running consumer fraud class action, Surrett v. Western Culinary Institute. The brief is long and technical. It focuses on things like arbitration clauses and class action procedure. If you’re really interested, I’ve uploaded it here: Brief – CEC WCI Opening Brief.   (Note: if you’re interested enough to read it for fun, it occurs to me that you might need a hobby. But I digress.)

We are fortunate to have recruited Portland attorney Maureen Leonard to lead on the appeal. In addition to being a dear friend, Maureen is a talented and well-respected lawyer who limits her practice to appeals. We will file a responding brief, and then CEC/WCI files a reply. After their final brief, the appeal will be set for oral argument. There is no firm timeline for when we will be through the appeal process. That said, we are committed to the case and will see it through to the end.

I will post our completed brief once it is up and the occasional update when we have more news. Meantime, thanks for your interest and patience.

David

Moving to dismiss the appeal brought by Career Education Corp and Western Culinary

For those interested, I’m posting our recent motion to dismiss and motion for reconsideration in Surrett v. Career Education Corp., our consumer fraud class against Career Education Corp for Western Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu Portland students.

We had cleared all pretrial motions and were steaming toward our January trial date when the Career Education Corp defendants filed an appeal of a ruling made by the trial judge. The problem with that is that if the appeal is allowed to go forward, we will lose our trial date. We’ve asked the Court of Appeals to dismiss the appeal. Barring that, we’ve asked the Court to release those class members who aren’t affected by the appeal from the holding pattern so that they can go to trial.

Lots more about it than all that. But that’s the short version.

It’s dry and complicated, but it gives those who are in the class some idea of what the legal team is up to. Here it is in PDF: Plaintiff-Respondent Surrett’s Petition for Reconsideration and Motion to Dismiss Appeal

We will update when we hear from the Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, know that the fight goes on.

 

Update: Consumer fraud class action against Career Education Corp and Western Culinary

This is a longer update on our case against Career Education Corp. and Western Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu Portland. It’s an update for those following the case, including members of the class.

Brian Campf and I were back in court Friday. Judge Baldwin issued a number of rulings from the bench.  As well, Career Education Corp. defendants are trying to appeal Judge Baldwin’s previous decision denying their motion to compel arbitration of the claims of roughly half of the class. Let’s take these dense things one at a time.

1) The Friday motions and rulings: Judge Baldwin heard and decided three motions on Friday. First, he granted in part our motion to compel production of discovery from an investigation report of Career Education Corp placement practices that had been disclosed earlier. This is a win for the class. We’re looking forward to reviewing this information.

The class lost two motions filed by Career Education Corp. Judge Baldwin granted in part a motion to allow the Career Education to do a survey of class members by mailing a questionnaire to members of the class. We opposed only because we believe that the form of the survey was confusing and potentially misleading. Judge Baldwin limited the questionnaire but has allowed them to go forward. While we disagree with Judge Baldwin’s ruling, we respect his authority and will cooperate with the process so that we can move forward to trial.

Judge Baldwin also granted a motion that removes approximately 300 people from the class. The 300 or so stopped attending and did not withdraw and thus were dismissed for attendance or academic reasons. The Court concluded that they should not be part of the class. We argued against the motion. While we disagree with this ruling, we recognize that Judge Baldwin has authority to make the choices that he made. As part of the process, those who are no longer part of the class will be sent notice informing them that they are out.

2) The new appeal: We learned on Friday that the Career Education defendants are appealing Judge Baldwin’s prior ruling denying their motion to move approximately half of the class into individual one-case-at-a-time arbitration. We won that argument and believe that Judge Baldwin correctly denied their motion. At the same time, the Career Education defendants sought to stay proceedings in the trial court while the appeal goes on. Appeals can take years, so it’s pretty apparent that they are simply trying to avoid our January trial date.

We’re in the process of moving to dismiss the appeal. We believe that they are not allowed to appeal the order in question. This is a technical, dry area of the law involving concepts of procedure and jurisdiction. We remain optimistic that the appeal will be dismissed and that we will stay on schedule. But even if the appeal goes forward, we will fight there too. So the bottom line on this is know that we are continuing forward, that we remain confident, and that Career Education Corp. can hire more lawyers, file more motions, and try to delay more. But they will not shake us off this case.

3) Parting thoughts: One of the things about the cases that we handle is that I have the luxury of choice. I will not take on a case unless I believe that it is right, and I will not pursue a case unless I believe it is important. But once we commit, we dig in. Stonewalling only makes us more determined. And so we dig deeper. And so we go on.

I’ll update when we have more news. By the way, we do more frequent and shorter updates on our major cases on Facebook. You can get that news if you are a Facebook user by liking us here. When I post on this blog, I generally leave a note on the FB page, so it’s also an easy way to keep up with this blog. As well, you can always follow me on Twitter @DavidSug, though that’s more of a personal account. I don’t always self-censor, so it’s definitely not for everyone.

Thanks for your continuing interest in this case and our work. We’ll let you know when we know more.

David

Judge denies defense motions in Career Education Corp Western Culinary Institute class action

Happy to report that Judge Baldwin denied defendants’ motions for summary judgment and to decertify the class in Surrett v. Western Culinary Institute, our consumer fraud class action for former Western Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu Portland students. We’re very pleased.

The gist of Judge Baldwin’s ruling is that there is sufficient evidence for a jury to decide whether the school and its parent corporation, Career Education Corp., defrauded students by failing to disclose important information. We’re very pleased. Now a bit more discovery and then full-on trial preparation.

It does look like we will be moving into mediation later this month. We had an early attempt at mediation long ago, and it failed miserably. Much  has happened since. Watch this space for updates or–for quicker information–like us at on Facebook here. We tend to post quicker updates there.

Update: Consumer fraud class action Career Ed Corp and Western Culinary Institute

In blog comments, we have been asked for updates on this case, which is below. A few things. First. A better source of quick update is our firm Facebook page. Assuming you are an FB user, simply go here and like the page, and you’ll get more timely information. Second. We have to be mindful of  what we post here. It’s a public page. No doubt that counsel for Career Education Corp and Western Culinary/Le Cordon Bleu Portland read this blog–greetings, Mr. Nylen–so we act accordingly.

And now to the specifics. Last Friday we appeared in front of Judge Baldwin for a long hearing on defendants’ motions to decertify the class and for summary judgment. For people keeping track at home, if granted, the first motion would end the class action and require everyone to go forward individually. If granted, the second motion would end the case, with a victory for the defendants.

Judge Baldwin did not rule from the bench and instead took the motions under advisement. This was not a surprise–there were many pages of pleadings and exhibits to review. It’s a big job digesting all of it.

I handled oral argument for the class, which went approximately two hours. While it’s not a particularly good predictor of outcomes, I felt good about how oral argument went. The defendants have since filed another motion, asking the Court to take into account a recent decision in New York dismissing a law school fraud class action. We’re not particularly impressed with the new argument–New York law is different. So are law schools.

While there is no fixed deadline, I would expect to hear back from Judge Baldwin by early or mid-April. He instructed the sides to come up with a proposed schedule for the rest of the case as well.

Meanwhile, we are preparing for trial of this large and complicated case. It’s been an interesting ride over the last four years. The legal team for the class has put in thousands of hours of work. (Yes, you read that correctly.)  The case continues to present many challenges. Our task remains to overcome each obstacle and get the case to trial.  No one said this case would be easy, but I remain pleased with our progress. And while it may look like nothing is happening, behind the scenes we continue to push forward to our day in court.