Court Dismisses Lawsuit Against Yale Over Fake Degree
By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN, Associated Press
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ A federal judge in Connecticut has dismissed a lawsuit against Yale University by a South Korean university that claimed it lost tens of millions of dollars after Yale damaged its reputation.
Dongguk University claimed in the 2008 lawsuit that it hired an art history professor after Yale wrongly confirmed the professor earned a doctorate at the New Haven school. Court papers say Professor Shin Jeong-ah later had a scandalous love affair with an aide to South Korea’s president.
Dongguk, a Buddhist-affiliated university in Seoul, sued Yale for more than $50 million, saying it lost that amount in government grants, alumni donations and costs of building a law school the government later refused to approve because of the scandal.
Judge Tucker Melancon on Friday dismissed allegations of defamation and negligence, saying there was a lack of evidence of malice.
Robert Weiner, a New York City lawyer for Dongguk, said they were analyzing the ruling.
“We are extremely surprised by the decision,” Weiner said.
Weiner has said Dongguk is the most prestigious Buddhist university in the world and it suffered a huge blow to its reputation with the Shin scandal.
A Yale spokesman said the university was very pleased with the decision and always believed that the case was without legal merit.
Shin was sentenced in March 2008 to 18 months in a South Korean jail for using fake Yale credentials to get the professor’s job at Dongguk and for embezzling museum funds. Officials said she also faked two degrees from the University of Kansas in getting the job in 2005.
Former presidential aide Byeon Yang-kyoon was accused of using his influence to get Shin hired by Dongguk. He was forced to step down as an aide to then-President Roh Moo-hyun because of the scandal.
Byeon was sentenced to a suspended one-year jail term and 160 hours of community service in 2008 for exercising his influence to provide state tax benefits to a Buddhist temple founded by a former Dongguk official who helped hire Shin as a professor, South Korean officials said.
Yale told Dongguk in June 2007 that Shin didn’t receive a doctorate there, saying a letter confirming the degree that Shin presented to Dongguk was bogus and forged. Yale also told Korean media that it never received a registered letter in 2005 from Dongguk asking whether Shin had received a doctorate even though it did receive the letter, the lawsuit said.
Yale apologized to Dongguk in late 2007 for what it called an administrative error, but by that time, Dongguk officials said, the damage to its reputation had been done. South Korean media reported in the summer and fall of 2007 that Shin’s academic degrees were a fraud, that Dongguk failed to verify Shin’s degrees, that Shin had an affair with Byeon and that Byeon had recommended to Dongguk officials that they hire Shin, court records say.
Melancon in February granted Yale’s request to dismiss a civil charge of reckless and wanton conduct, but he denied Yale’s request to dismiss allegations of defamation and negligence.
In his latest ruling, Melancon said he applied the wrong standard of proof earlier. He said there was insufficient evidence to prove actual malice by Yale.
In dismissing the negligence claim, the judge rejected Dongguk’s claim that Yale’s decision to wait more than a month to advise Dongguk that Yale had made inaccurate statements caused more harm to its reputation.
Melancon concluded that if the case was allowed to proceed to trial, “there could be but one verdict that a jury of reasonable persons could reach: a verdict in favor of Yale and against Dongguk on all of Dongguk’s remaining claims.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)