THEIR VIEW: More fuel for WVU: A contract is a contract

By The West Virginia Record | Jun 1, 2008


MORGANTOWN -- Case No. 33524 of the January term of the West Virginia Supreme Court is hardly the stuff of headline news. It's essentially a contract dispute between two Harrison County residents and their real estate agent.

I'll get to why this case is relevant in a moment, but first the background:

The couple sued their agent and others claiming they were defrauded because a provision they thought was in their contract, in fact, was not. But the couple lost, first in circuit court and most recently in the state Supreme Court.

The high court's decision last month is short -- 8 pages -- and to the point; you can't break a contract after you sign it just because you don't like what's in it.

Although this case is about a real estate transaction, in some ways it closely matches the current argument between WVU and former football coach Rich Rodriguez.

Rodriguez claims he was told by WVU President Mike Garrison not to worry about the $4-million buyout, that it would not be enforced if he decided to leave. (That's a claim that Garrison refutes.) Rodriguez also maintains he was promised that after Garrison took office some of his other needs for the football program would be met.

Rodriguez has already admitted in his deposition that these other items -- such as allowing his players to sell their textbooks and keep the money, more money for his assistance coaches, his own website and other things -- were not in the contract he signed.

So, goes the Rodriguez logic, he was duped into signing the contract, which includes the $4-million dollar buyout he's working feverishly to avoid paying.

And that brings us back to the high court's finding in the Harrison County real estate case.

The court said if the Harrison County couple didn't like what was in the contract "they could have amended the contract before signing it." Notably, during his deposition Rodriguez admitted he knew how to change a contract and had done it before, but he didn't make any major changes to the final version he signed in August 2007.

The Supreme Court also said in the Harrison County case that barring any disability, it's understood that an adult has the ability to read and comprehend the terms of a contract. In the Rodriguez case there's plenty of evidence he and others consulting with him understood the contract.

And finally, the court referenced "Reddy v. Community Health Foundation of Man" which said, "contracts are reduced to writing so there can be no subsequent argument concerning the terms of the agreement." That's the parol evidence rule which says the written document represents the complete agreement.

What someone said, may have said, or promised, generally isn't relevant.

Nitro attorney Harvey Peyton tells me the Harrison County case is not landmark material, but rather a restatement of an old and familiar law.

But, as Peyton points out, "the timing of this opinion should give WVU's lawyers some fresh ammunition, fresh authority from the Court that should be persuasive" with a judge.

Barring any extraordinary circumstances, the contract is the contract.

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