MORGANTOWN - A bookstore that serves West Virginia University students has sued the school for at least $2 million, claiming the university has a monopoly on stores that sell textbooks and school memorabilia.
The Book Exchange, through attorney Bader C. Giggenbach, filed a suit June 8 in Monongalia Circuit Court, against West Virginia University and Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Inc.
The suit also names four bookstores operated by Barnes & Noble and WVU, the Downtown Bookstore, Evansdale Bookstore, Law Bookstore and Health Sciences Bookstore.
The Book Exchange has been a business since 1934, selling textbooks, trade books, education supplies, accessories, gift items, WVU licensed memorabilia and other items.
According to the lawsuit, WVU and Barnes & Noble entered into a contract in 2001, for the purpose of leasing WVU's bookstores to Barnes & Noble, as a vender. The contract was renewed for a second five-year term, effective Jan. 1, 2006.
During that time, the university and Barnes & Noble implemented a program where a portion of the students' financial aid was withheld for use at the school's bookstores. According to the suit, $500 was withheld from every student who received financial aid.
The school started to reserve a portion of the financial aid in August 2005.
"…the Defendants did not obtain the approval, authorization, or consent for said reserve or withholding of monies from the WVU students who receive financial aid," the suit says.
According to the suit, students received an email Dec. 13, 2005, from WVU that stated "an amount up to $500 has been reserved on account at the bookstore."
If students did not want the bookstore to take the money, they were given until Dec. 16 to choose not to participate in the program.
The suit states the program "constitutes a constructive taking of students' financial aid monies."
Also, students who did not take the steps to be removed from the automatic reserve were precluded from using a portion of their financial aid for the purchase of books from The Book Exchange, who has therefore suffered from lost sales, the suit alleges.
The Book Exchange claims the defendants violated West Virginia Code by diverting the students' money to the bookstores, which precludes the students from the "free market protections of obtaining those textbooks which are available at a lower cost at The Book Exchange," the suit says.
Also, the suit alleges the automatic withholding of funds is intended to monopolize the trade involving the sale of textbooks to WVU financial aid students.
The Book Exchange also claims the defendants violated the West Virginia Electronic Mail Protection Act and the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act.
In the three-count lawsuit, The Book Exchange claims it has suffered losses totaling more than $2 million. It seeks recovery of damages, as well as punitive damages, from the defendants.
Monongalia Circuit Court case number 07-C-369