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        The United States Court of Appeals, in an April 30, 2024 decision, affirmed in part and reversed in part the District Court’s dismissal of a law student’s action alleging violations by the California State Bar’s Director of Admissions. 

Pell v. Nunez, 23-55188 (9th Cir. Apr 30, 2024)

A law student, Pell, petitioned the State Bar of California to excuse his delay in taking the First Year Law Students Exam (FYLSX). The exam is required for bar admission for students attending an unaccredited law school. Pell is an 81-year-old law student enrolled at the American Institute of Law. He failed to attempt to take the FYLSX until his sixth opportunity to do so, and it must be completed within the first three opportunities to do so. Pell claimed due to extenuating circumstances, specifically his wife’s liver transplant and his age, he was prevented from taking those exams. However, Pell did pass on his first attempt but forfeited 29 credit hours for courses he successfully completed after his first year of law school.

Pell then petitioned the Director of Admissions for the State Bar of California for a hearing to request an exception to the denial of credit hours. The State Bar summarily denied the petition, and no petition was made to the California Supreme Court. Instead, Pell filed a complaint against the Director in Federal Court, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and alleging his 14th Amendment rights were violated.

Here, this Court agreed with the District Court that the State Bar’s actions did not cause a cognizable deprivation of federal law, given it is the California Supreme Court that has exclusive authority over the process for admission, not the Director.  (See, Margulis v. State Bar of Cal., 845 F.2d 215, 216 (9th Cir. 1988) (per curiam)). Thus, since the FYLSX is part of the admissions process, it falls within the “inherent power and original jurisdiction” of the California Supreme Court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals held that the District Court erred by dismissing the case for lack of subject matter evidence; however, given Pell did not adequately allege a “deprivation of rights,” the Court concluded that the federal claims should be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

Application dismissed.