Key ruling finds that City College’s accreditors violated the law, as Oct. 27 trial looms

Herrera is ‘grateful for a decision that should help disabuse accreditors of the arrogant notion that their violations are somehow beyond the reach of California law’

SAN FRANCISCO (Oct. 21, 2014)—City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s lawsuit against the private commission seeking to terminate City College of San Francisco’s accreditation received a major boost today when a San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges is subject to provisions of state law prohibiting unlawful and unfair acts by businesses and private associations. Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow’s 40-page decision also granted one of Herrera’s key motions when he found that the accreditors “violated controlling federal regulations” by failing to include more than a single academic representative on a 2013 evaluation panel. After rejecting all of the ACCJC’s pre-trial defenses, Karnow acknowledged that several of the issues for which he was unable to grant summary adjudication may be decided at trial, which is slated to begin on Oct. 27.

The ruling issued late this afternoon comes in response to competing motions for summary adjudication, in which Herrera and the Novato, Calif.-based accrediting commission each sought pre-trial rulings on key issues likely to figure prominently in the trial. At a Sept. 10 hearing on the dueling motions, ACCJC’s attorneys argued that the private accreditors’ actions were effectively excluded from the prohibitions of California’s Unfair Competition Law because educational accreditation is not a commercial endeavor. Judge Karnow rejected that argument, siding with Herrera’s contention that the legislature expressly included “associations and other organizations of persons” within the law’s scope, and that courts have broadly construed Business and Professions Code Section 17200 to apply to a wide array of private entities, including non-profits that charge for their services.

“I’m grateful for a decision that should help disabuse accreditors of the arrogant notion that their violations are somehow beyond the reach of California law,” said Herrera. “Lack of accountability has been consistent theme in this accrediting commission’s conduct, whether it has involved City College, or the legislature, or the law itself. Judge Karnow has issued a wise and extremely thorough ruling on the applicability of state law to unfair and unlawful practices, and I respect his decision to withhold judgment on several other issues until trial next month.”

Today’s ruling is a potentially critical factor in the litigation because the ACCJC has not meaningfully disputed Herrera’s factual allegations that accreditors allowed improper procedures and conflicts of interest to unfairly influence their evaluation of City College. Last August, the U.S. Department of Education independently determined that the ACCJC’s evaluation of City College violated multiple provisions of federal law: by failing to maintain effective controls against conflicts of interest; failing to ensure that academic personnel were reasonably represented on evaluation teams; and failing to clearly identify instances of non-compliance in a manner that afforded adequate due process to City College.

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 revealed a legal strategy “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.

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 is available on the San Francisco City Attorney’s website 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 21, 2014)

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