Law Schools, Screw-Ups

Cooley Law Dropout Learns a Lesson in Res Judicata

Cooley law school logo.jpgWhenever we write about Thomas M. Cooley Law School, commenters cannot resist reminding us of Cooley’s business model. The school admits a large number of 1Ls. If they can’t hack it, they are dismissed.

So what happens to the kids who couldn’t hack it at Cooley? Well, sometimes they sue the school for discrimination. But, because they washed out at Cooley, sometimes they still haven’t learned some very basic 1L principles — like res judicata. Here’s the summary of the Sixth Circuit opinion in the case of Buck v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School:

Plaintiff appeals from the district court’s dismissal of her lawsuit against her former law school as barred by res judicata and a lack of causation. She previously litigated earlier acts of discrimination against her law school in Michigan state courts, and had secured a preliminary injunction allowing her to attend classes. She was then dismissed from the law school on academic grounds. Because plaintiff should have supplemented her complaint in state court with claims that arose during the pendency of that suit, she is precluded by res judicata from raising these claims now. Therefore, we AFFIRM.

It’s a shame that Cooley admits people who can’t understand basic principles of civil procedure. Even if plaintiff Buck had a good argument for setting aside the principle of res judicata, she does a terrible job of making her case to the Sixth Circuit ….

I’ll spare you the details on the procedural history of this case — ’cause they’re boring — and skip right ahead to the Sixth Circuit’s clear, black-letter explanation of res judicata:

The allegations regarding defendant’s treatment between 2002 and her second dismissal by the law school in 2006 are part of the same transaction – alleged misconduct and discriminatory animus by defendant towards her as a law student – as the allegations giving rise to her first lawsuit. Plaintiff alleged that defendant tried to deny her accommodations and otherwise interfered with her studies in her original complaint, her supplemental complaint, and her federal complaint. Many of the factual allegations she raises in this lawsuit are identical to those she attempted to add to her state court litigation. For example, she attempted to obtain leave from the state court to add allegations that her academic advisor refused to provide her advice after the court’s injunction required her readmission during the pendency of the lawsuit and that Cercone had instructed her Immigration Law professor not to change her grade. She makes these same allegations in her federal complaint.

Plaintiff argues that her federal complaint alleges many facts that had not occurred at the time that she had filed her state court complaint. She correctly observes that these facts were not – and could not have been – included in plaintiff’s original state court complaint when it was filed in 2002. …

Nevertheless, under Michigan law, a plaintiff has a duty to supplement her complaint with related factual allegations that develop “during the pendency of” her state suit or have them barred by res judicata.


As long as the Sixth Circuit is on the teaching trip, we should allow them to school this dismissed Cooley student on the importance of using the right cases to make her point:

Relying on the Second Restatement of Judgments, plaintiff also contends that the “recurrent wrong exception” should be applied to her case. See Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 26(1)(e) (stating that res judicata may not apply where, “[f]or reasons of substantive policy in a case involving a continuing or recurrent wrong, the plaintiff is given an option to sue once for the total harm, both past and prospective, or to sue from time to time for the damages incurred to the date of suit, and chooses the latter course.”). She has failed to cite any authority suggesting that such an exception is, in fact, available to her under Michigan law. Moreover, there is no indication that she elected during the course of her initial suit to only sue for a portion of her damages. In fact, we have held that an argument that the defendant is “continuing on the same course of conduct,” actually supports application of res judicata. Dubuc, 312 F.3d at 751. If such conduct “has previously been found by a court to be proper, a subsequent court must conclude that the plaintiff is simply trying to relitigate the same claim.” Id. Plaintiff falls well short of establishing that an exception to res judicata should be applied to her case.

A Restatement of Anything can be used to make a point in the Above the Law comments. But using one as the basis for your appeal without supporting case law is kind of like how a child thinks crying louder is going to get him a better birthday present.

Res judicata, the proper use of restatements — I suppose these are the kinds of things this student would have figured out if she had been able to complete her legal education. But hey, she’s been involved in a case before the Sixth Circuit. That’s better than a lot of Biglaw types will do.

Now that she’s satisfied her curiosity, maybe she can focus on something that she’s good at, because it doesn’t appear that “lawyering” is going to be her thing. You know how the song goes:

Cooley law dropout (Cooley law dropout)
Go back to high school
Cooley law dropout (Cooley law dropout)
Go back to high school
Cooley law dropout (Cooley law dropout)
Go back to high school

(hidden for your protection)

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