Law360, New York (May 29, 2014, 8:33 PM ET) — A New Jersey state judge on Thursday granted class certification in a consumer fraud suit against Star Career Academy, a for-profit school accused of concealing changes to state law that would preclude its surgical technology students from obtaining work in the field upon graduation.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Anthony M. Pugliese certified the class on Thursday and, in a separate ruling, cleared the case for trial, according to a statement from attorneys representing members of the class. The suit accuses Star Career Academy of inducing students to enroll and remain in its surgical technology degree program by deceiving students about the passage of a state law that would prevent them from working as surgical technicians in the state after graduation.
Lead plaintiff Shirley Polanco launched the suit in December claiming the Berlin, New Jersey-based technical school violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act by leading her to believe she would learn skills that would place her in high demand, only to find out SCA students would not be able to work as surgical technologists in New Jersey due to the January 2012 passage of a law imposing stricter standards on the profession.
“Plaintiff and her fellow students wasted precious time and money pursuing an education at SCA, and many obligated themselves to student loans which they must repay, despite their unemployability as surgical technologists,” the complaint said.
Thomas More Marrone of Greenblatt Pierce Engle Funt & Flores LLC, an attorney for the class, said in the statement that Judge Pugliese’s ruling puts Polanco and her fellow students closer to obtaining justice.
“This kind of corporate irresponsibility is exactly why New Jersey has a Consumer Fraud Act in the first place,” Marrone said. “The class members are honest, hard-working people who were just trying to improve their own lives while also improving the lives of others.”
The complaint said Polanco enrolled in SCA’s surgical technology program in July 2011, taking out loans to pay off the tuition of just over $18,000, and completed the program in August 2012.
Polanco said, unbeknownst to her, Gov. Chris Christie signed a law in January 2012 setting forth guidelines that required surgical technologists to have received their education from a nationally or regionally accredited program, which SCA was not, the complaint said.
The suit includes a single count of violating the NJCFA, and demands an accounting of all expenses collected from members of the class, compensatory and punitive damages, pre- and post-judgment interest attorneys’ fees and court costs.
The complaint does not estimate the size of the class, but said it would include anyone who enrolled in the program after July 2011 and was not told the program was not accredited.
Star Academy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
The class is represented by Thomas More Marrone, Patricia V. Pierce and Ronald Greenblatt of Greenblatt Pierce Engle Funt & Flores LLC.
Star Academy is represented by Lawrence S. Gondelman and Sherry Mastrostefano Grey of Powers Pyles Sutter & Verville PC and by William Tully of Graham Curtin PC.
The case is Shirley Polanco et al. v. Star Career Academy et al., case number L-000415-13, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County.
– Editing by Rebecca Flanagan.