Stanford Grad's Defamation Case Plagued by Inadmissible Evidence

By Robyn Hagan Cain on August 29, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's not uncommon to hear about law students and alumni suing law schools these days -- the job market is terrible, and people are struggling under the burden of unemployment and law school debt -- but it's interesting when an alumna suggests that a professor at her law school is interfering with her ability to find employment.

And it's downright sensational when the unemployed lawyer is a Stanford Law School graduate.

Usha Viswanathan sued her alma mater, Stanford Law School for libel, slander, and negligent supervision and training. Viswanathan claimed that, after she settled a lawsuit with the school over a different matter in 2001, faculty and staff became hostile toward her. Viswanathan alleged that she received harassing phone calls that appeared to originate from Stanford phone numbers, and that she was monitored by students while in the Stanford law library. She believed that the school and faculty were disseminating "negative information" about her, and preventing her from finding employment with a law firm.

A California court granted summary judgment in favor of Stanford in 2011.

Let's review the basics of summary judgment. Summary judgment is properly granted "if all the papers submitted show that there is no triable issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." There is a triable issue of material fact if, and only if, the evidence would allow a reasonable trier of fact to find the underlying fact in favor of the party opposing the motion in accordance with the applicable standard of proof."

If the allegations are true, it sounds like Viswanathan would have a case against the school. Last week, however, a California appellate court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the law school. Viswanathan's problem? She couldn't prove her claims through admissible evidence.

The appellate court concluded that Stanford Law School had presented evidence -- through declarations and testimony -- that Viswanathan would be unable to produce any evidence supporting the claims in her complaint, while Viswanathan failed to produce admissible evidence raising a triable question of fact material to any of the issues she raised.

We don't know what happened here. Maybe Viswanathan imagined the threats and whisper campaigns. Maybe someone at the law school actually did these things. Maybe Viswanathan and Stanford Law School are both the victims of an elaborate hoax. Regardless, admissibility is the name of the game in summary judgment. If you can't demonstrate a triable issue of material fact with admissible evidence, your claim will be DOA.

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