After four hours of arguments, Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack asked attorneys for both sides in a class action suit filed by former students against Sanford Brown Colleges for more case law before he decides whether or not to certify the case.
Stack is retiring next month.
While plaintiffs' attorney John Carey of the firm Carey Danis & Lowe of St. Louis told Stack that Sanford Brown and its corporate parent were violating state law and giving students "a worthless piece of paper," Sanford Brown's attorney James Monafo III told the judge that the plaintiffs' claims were too individual and unique for them to lead a class of more than 2,000 Sanford Brown students.
Carey's clients, Jessica and Jenna Lilley, Cassandra Allen and several others, propose to lead a class of up to 2,400 students from the school's Collinsville campus who were enrolled in Sanford
Brown's medical assistants program from 2003 to the present.
The plaintiffs claim that Sanford Brown violated the Illinois Private Business and Vocational Schools Act by not making explanations required by law and skewing statistics about graduates' jobs, salaries and other enrollment considerations.
Sanford Brown claims that the plaintiffs can't prove the school caused any harm and suggested during Monday's arguments that outside factors in the plaintiffs' lives accounted for their lack of success.
Sanford Brown has also sued several of the plaintiffs over unpaid tuition.
Carey argued that Sanford Brown systematically did not provide the explanations required by law in order to "prey upon the unsophisticated."
"They basically get a worthless program," Carey said. "This is really a case about omission."
Carey argued that the plaintiffs and their claims met the standards for class certification.
Carey's partner at the plaintiff's table, John Klamann of the Klamann Law Firm in Kansas City, Mo., explained differences between the Madison County class's claims and those filed by individual plaintiffs in Missouri also against Sanford Brown.
Carey asked Stack to certify the class.
Monafo took aim at the causation issues in the case, claiming the plaintiffs couldn't be lumped together because each entered the school's program for different reasons and under different circumstances.
Monafo played several excerpts of depositions provided by Cassandra Allen and others.
"This case is swamped with individual issues," Monafo said. "This is putting lipstick on a pig, judge."
In those excerpts, the plaintiffs admitted they did not read statistics forms about the medical assistants program provided by the school.
The women also admitted differing reasons for enrolling at the school.
Monafo went on to argue that even if the school had failed to make the explanations required by law or tinkered with its statistics, the plaintiffs could not prove what harm they came to.
Stack, who admitted to knowing Cassandra Allen's grandfather, took issue with Monafo's arguments about what harm the school's alleged violations could have done.
"If someone had explained it to them, would it have changed their attitude or what they did?" Stack asked regarding the plaintiffs' enrollment. "How can you say someone enrolled for something nobody told them about?"
Stack asked several questions, at one point pounding his fist on the bench for emphasis.
Following Monafo's arguments, Stack questioned Carey as to how the class would be shaped, assuming the plaintiffs' could prove harm and lay out damages for what appeared to the judge to be a diverse class.
At one point Stack suggested they might have to be two classes, one for those who graduated and one for those who didn't.
"I don't know how manageable that would be," Stack said.
Carey countered that the act did not require his clients to prove harm was caused, only that the school violated the Act.
Stack expressed his doubts about the plaintiffs' theory about causation but asked both parties for case law on the topic.
Stack indicated he planned to rule well before his Dec. 3 retirement date.
The case is Madison case number 08-L-113