University Students Lack Standing To Bring Claim They Were Injured By College Admissions Scandal

Category: Private Education Matters
Date: Jun 30, 2020 01:16 PM

William “Rick” Singer operated a fraudulent university admissions scheme, which is now known as the “College Admissions Scandal.”  One of Singer’s schemes included accepting financial contributions from parents to create a false sports profile for the parents’ children to make it appear that the student was a superior student-athlete.  Singer would then bribe the coaches or managers in a university’s athletic department to give the student one of the spots the university set aside for superior student-athletes.  The manager or coach would then bypass a legitimate superior student-athlete who was qualified to fill the set aside spot in favor of a student with fraudulent athletic credentials created by Singer.

In a consolidated action, about thirty students (Students) sued Singer and numerous universities implicated in the College Admissions Scandal (Singer and the Universities), alleging that the Students were damaged because they paid college admissions application fees to the universities without knowing that unqualified candidates were “slipping in through the back door of the admissions process.”  The Students alleged that they suffered economic harm because they paid the application fees, and were also harmed because they did not receive the fair and objective admissions process they were promised.

Singer and the Universities filed motions to dismiss the Students’ claims, contending that the Students lacked standing to bring the actions.  To establish standing, the Students had to allege “(1) an injury in fact that is concrete and particularized, as well as actual or imminent; (2) that the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and (3) that it is likely (not merely speculative) that injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.”  Singer and the Universities alleged that the Students could not show that they were particularly affected by the allegedly fraudulent scheme. 

The court agreed, finding that the Students only “alleged injury—that they applied to a school engaging in fraud and that they would not have applied had they known about the fraud—is not particular to them” and that any applicant or admitted student to one of these universities have the same harm.  Further, the court explained that Singers’ scheme affected the spots these universities reserved for superior student-athletes, and the general admissions spots at the universities were unaffected.  Because none of the Students alleged that they applied for, were being considered for, or were denied a spot set aside for superior student-athletes, the Students could not show that Singers’ scheme had a particular effect on their admissions applications.  The court noted that without a link between Singer’s scheme and the Students, their “harm collapses into harm based on the wrongness of the scheme itself,” which is insufficient to have standing.

Ultimately, the court dismissed the Students’ claims because they failed to show that they were particularly affected by Singer’s fraudulent scheme.  The court also noted that its decision “should not be construed as condoning Singer’s manipulation of the college admissions process.”

Tamboura v. Singer (N.D. Cal., May 29, 2020, No. 5:19-CV-01405-EJD) 2020 WL 2793371.

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