BANGOR, Maine (Legal Newsline) – Lack of clearer allegations about accreditation could be a weak spot in the $5 million putative class action lawsuit filed in Maine by four former nursing students, a New York-based business law and litigation attorney said during a recent interview.

"I was disappointed that the complaint did not more clearly spell out the alleged misrepresentation regarding accreditation, which seems to be the key fact," John J. Tollefsen of Tollefsen Law said during a Legal Newsline email interview.

Tollefsen, whose "Negligent Misrepresentation in Washington State Law" and "Four Theories of Recovery for Misrepresentation" were first published in 2009 and 2012 respectively, said the relevant laws are not uniform in all states.

"Negligent misrepresentation is a creation of common law applied differently in the states and is harder to prove than the statutory allegations (consumer protection violations) alleged in the complaint," he said. "I expect the case will turn on statutory violations."

The putative class action complaint was filed Dec. 30 in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine against Intercoast Colleges, doing business as Intercoast Career Institute. The four plaintiffs and former Intercoast nursing students - Stephanie Kourembanas, Caridad Jean Baptiste, Cathy Mande and Catharine Valley - allege Intercoast misrepresented that it offered accredited programs.

The four students' accusations against InterCoast are blistering.

"The InterCoast LPN Program was a sham," the lawsuit says. "It existed to make money without regard for the quality of education its students received in exchange. InterCoast provided little, if any, educational value to its students and failed to enhance their occupational qualifications or career prospects.

"Among other failings, InterCoast did not provide qualified faculty members to teach required courses, did not provide adequate clinical experiences for its students, and did not adequately prepare its students for taking the National Council Licensing Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN), which they had to pass to become LPNs and obtain work in their chosen field."

InterCoast charged each enrolled student about approximately $36,000 to participate in its LPN Program, and most students paid for that with federally backed student loans, the lawsuit said.

"InterCoast played an extensive role in the financial aid process for plaintiffs and potential class members, which included gathering and submitting the students’ necessary paperwork to the United States Department of Education," the lawsuit said.

"InterCoast worked to maximize the aid each student received from the federal government so as to maximize the number of students able to pay its high tuition. InterCoast treated the United States Department of Education as its cash source, with the students serving unwittingly as the means by which InterCoast enriched itself at the expense of both the students and the public fisc."

InterCoast did not respond to a Legal Newsline request for comment.

Tollefsen declined to speculate about what strategy InterCoast's attorneys might follow in the case.

"I do not know enough about the facts to guess the defense," he said. "But often defendants point the finger at the plaintiffs: e.g. they flunked the test due to their own inability and not because of the quality of instruction."

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U.S. District Court for the District of Maine
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