City College accreditors suffer another pre-trial setback, as judge rejects motion to dismiss

With case set for trial on Oct. 27, Herrera is ‘grateful for a decision that confirms once again that accreditors’ violations are not beyond the reach of courts or the law’ 

The private commission seeking to terminate City College of San Francisco’s accreditation suffered another legal setback today when a Superior Court judge rejected a move by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges that would have effectively dismissed City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s lawsuit alleging that accreditors allowed improper procedures and conflicts to unfairly influence their evaluation of California’s largest community college. The case is set for trial on Oct. 27.

In an 8-page ruling issued late this afternoon, Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow denied the ACCJC’s eleventh hour bid to strike Herrera’s lawsuit as an impermissible assault on accreditors’ First Amendment rights. In reaching the conclusion, Karnow largely sided with Herrera’s contention that legal doctrines intended to protect the right of organizations to petition the government to redress grievances would not insulate accrediting agencies from liability for their procedural violations or wrongful decision-making.

ACCJC’s motion for judgment on the pleadings was argued in a hearing before Judge Karnow yesterday morning. It is the accreditors’ sixth failed bid to derail or delay the lawsuit Herrera initially filed on Aug. 22, 2013. Previously, lawyers for the Novato, Calif.-based accrediting commission sought unsuccessfully to remove the case to federal court; to petition the state court to abstain from hearing the case; to stay proceedings pending accreditors’ review of the college; to stay proceedings based on ACCJC’s invention of a “restoration” process; and for summary adjudication based on an array of similarly failed arguments.

“The ACCJC has virtually exhausted the playbook in terms of trying to shield its actions from judicial review,” said Herrera. “I’m grateful for a decision that confirms once again that accreditors’ violations are not beyond the reach of courts or the law. Judge Karnow has demonstrated patience and thoughtfulness in repeatedly addressing the applicability of state law to unfair practices. I look forward to finally litigating these issues at trial on Oct. 27, and to making our case as to why City College of San Francisco — a cherished institution that has been a cornerstone of educational promise for generations — deserves a fair and lawful accreditation process.”

Case Background

In June 2012, the ACCJC issued to City College of San Francisco the harshest sanction an accreditation process can produce: a “show cause” letter placing the onus on the college to demonstrate why its accreditation should not be terminated. A year later, in June 2013, despite significant progress by the college to address deficiencies identified by accreditors, the commission acted to terminate City College’s accreditation effective July 31, 2014.

Herrera filed his civil action against the ACCJC on Aug. 22, 2013. On Nov. 25, 2013, following three months of procedural delays by the ACCJC that Herrera said demonstrated an attempt “to run out the clock,” the city attorney filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to block the commission from terminating City College’s accreditation as planned, eight months later. Judge Karnow granted the major portion of Herrera’s motion on Jan. 2, 2014, preliminarily enjoining the commission from finalizing its planned termination of City College’s accreditation during the course of the litigation. That injunction remains in place.

The case is: People of the State of California ex rel. Dennis Herrera v. Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges et al., San Francisco Superior Court No. 13-533693, filed Aug. 22, 2013. Additional information on the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is available at: https://www.sfcityattorney.org.

Related Documents:

PDF icon PDF of the Court Ruling on the ACCJC’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Presskit (October 8, 2014)

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