201905.13
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Judge makes room for class-action lawsuit accusing Capella University of lying to students

Published by Pioneer Press
By JOSH VERGES

May 8, 2019 at 4:27 pm

A lawsuit accusing Minneapolis-based Capella University of lying about the time and cost of obtaining a degree is moving forward after a judge carved a narrow path for aggrieved students to sue.

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright this week dismissed all but three of 45 counts laid out in a complaint last year against the for-profit school.

Carefully parsing Capella’s marketing statements, she found allegations against the school do not add up to “false representations” for eight of the nine plaintiffs named.

The surviving allegations concern a Massachusetts man, Maurice Ornelas, who was enrolled in Capella’s public safety Ph.D. program from 2012 to 2016.

He says a recruiter told him by email that “our typical learner will complete their PhD program in 3 years.”

In fact, as Capella disclosed to the federal government in 2016, the average student takes 75 months to complete the program — more than twice as long.

Wright’s ruling zeroed in on the word “typical.” She said Ornelas can make the argument that Capella committed fraud in his case because the typical student takes much longer to get a degree.

The eight other plaintiffs made similar allegations. However, in their cases, Capella described the unrealistically short completion times as the programs’ “structured” or “designed” length.

For the judge, those claims do not amount to fraud.

One of the programs at issue is Capella’s Doctor of Education program, which the school said was “designed to be completed in less than 3 years.”

In its Gainful Employment Report to the government, the school acknowledged none of that program’s 2014-15 graduates finished that quickly.

Despite the dismissal of 42 counts, Lesko said Wright’s ruling provides a path forward for the case. He said the “typical learner” email Ornelas received likely was used in communications to many more students.

Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane Continues Investigating

Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane lawyers often represent individuals harmed by fraud, or other unfair or deceptive practices and are continuing to investigate Capella’s programs. Most cases of this type are taken on a contingency fee basis, meaning that Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane would advance the case costs, and only get paid for their fees and costs out of money they recover for their clients.

Capella students who believe they were victims of fraudulent conduct or misrepresentations by Capella should fill out an online Contact Form or contact attorney Paul Lesko at 314-833-4826 or at plesko@pwcklegal.com for a FREE Consultation.