NY court rejects S. Korean vs. Yale lawsuit

NEW YORK (AP) — A South Korean university’s lawsuit claiming Yale University damaged its reputation and cost it tens of millions of dollars by wrongly confirming that an art history professor it hired had earned a doctorate at the Ivy League school was rejected Thursday by a federal appeals court.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan sided with a lower court judge in Connecticut who had dismissed the 2008 lawsuit last year by the Buddhist-affiliated Dongguk University, a school that has produced Nobel Prize-winning authors and poets. A three-judge panel of the appeals court concluded that Dongguk had failed to show there was actual malice on the part of Yale because there was no evidence that school administrators were aware that statements Yale had made were inaccurate.

The prominent South Korean school’s lawsuit had asserted claims for defamation, negligence and reckless conduct, saying it was “publicly humiliated and deeply shamed in the eyes of the Korean publication.” The school claimed it lost more than $50 million in government grants, alumni donations and other damages.

It cited Yale’s response to its request to confirm the degree for Jeong ah Shin. Shin had applied for a position at Dongguk in August 2005 and submitted a document to Dongguk on Yale University letterhead purportedly certifying a doctorate degree in art history. Dongguk hired her on Sept. 1, 2005. Days later, it sent a letter to the New Haven, Conn., school to verify the degree and received a faxed letter from an administrator confirming the certification’s authenticity.

The controversy erupted two years later when Dongguk discovered that Shin may have plagiarized her dissertation and emailed an inquiry to a Yale librarian, who said Yale had no record of Shin’s dissertation, the appeals court said. Other administrators confirmed she had never obtained the degree, and Shin resigned from Dongguk in June 2007.

The controversy worsened after media reports arose that said Shin had had an affair with former presidential aide Byeon Yang-kyoon. He was accused of using his influence to get Shin hired by Dongguk and to cover up the fraud. He was forced to step down as an aide to then-President Roh Moo-hyun because of the scandal.

The lawsuit sought to hold Yale accountable for having confirmed the existence of the doctorate degree, only to later claim through administrators that the confirmation was bogus and had never occurred. In late 2007, Yale acknowledged it had confirmed existence of the degree but said its staff had done so after mistakenly relying on the letterhead and signature on the certification letter and failing to recognize it was fabricated.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the university was pleased with the ruling.

“The case was baseless and should never have been pursued,” he said in an email.

Messages for comment to lawyers for Dongguk were not immediately returned.

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