West Virginia Record

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Judge refuses to stay WVU's lawsuit against Big East

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Feb 1, 2012

MORGANTOWN - A Monongalia Circuit Court judge says he will not stay a lawsuit filed by West Virginia University against the Big East Conference while the conference's own lawsuit plays out in a Rhode Island court.

Judge Russell Clawges filed his order denying the Big East's motion to stay or dismiss WVU's lawsuit on Tuesday.

"This Court does not believe staying this proceeding until a decision in the Courts of Rhode Island will promote the interests of justice," the judge wrote in his six-page order.

"This action was filed first and a Scheduling Order entered before any significant proceeding occurred in the Rhode Island Court. This matter is scheduled for trial and no trial is scheduled in Rhode Island."

WVU filed the lawsuit in hopes of being able to move to its new home, the Big XII, more quickly.

Clawges said "maintaining" the action in the West Virginia court would not "work a substantial injustice" to the Big East.

"These matters can be tried as easily in West Virginia as in any alternate forum," he wrote. "In fact, the private interest of WVU and the public interest of the State of West Virginia clearly predominate in favor of the action remaining in the State of West Virginia.

"The only reason for the action to be moved to an alternate forum is the private interest of Big East, who wants the action moved to the forum of its location."

The judge chided the conference for filing suit in Rhode Island after WVU's action was already filed in West Virginia, saying it caused an "unreasonable duplication of litigation."

"There is no reason all claims of the parties against each other cannot be resolved in one forum," he wrote.

Clawges noted that the agreement of the parties -- the bylaws of the Big East -- do not contain a choice of law or forum provisions for the resolution of disputes.

"Interestingly, Big East is a corporation formed in the District of Columbia and the parties contend the District of Columbia law applies to the resolution of the disputes between the parties," he wrote.

"Neither party is contending that the District of Columbia is the appropriate forum for this action, although it would at least provide both parties with a neutral court, as would the Madison Square Garden, I suppose."

WVU announced its move to the Big XII on Oct. 28.

Shortly after, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said the conference intended to hold the university to a conference bylaw that requires an exiting school to give at least 27 months notice of its departure from the conference.

WVU then filed its lawsuit Oct. 31, asking Clawges to void the Big East conference rules and allow the university to go ahead and join the Big XII to begin play in 2012.

The university says it intends to leave the Big East June 30 and join the Big XII July 1.

WVU cites the exits of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Texas Christian University's move to the Big XII -- even before it became an official member of the Big East -- as examples of how the Big East has deteriorated as a football conference.

"As the Big East, in less than two months, had denigrated into a non-major football conference whose continued existence is in serious jeopardy, WVU had no choice but to accept the Big XII's offer," WVU wrote in its complaint.

"The denigration of the Big East football conference is a direct and proximate result of ineffective leadership and breach of fiduciary duties to the football schools by the Big East Conference and its commissioner."

Four days after WVU filed its lawsuit in West Virginia, the Big East countersued in Rhode Island.

A Rhode Island judge has already denied WVU's request to dismiss the Big East's lawsuit.

WVU argued that the Rhode Island court did not have the authority to decide the matter, and that it should be heard in West Virginia, where the first civil lawsuit was filed.

The university also claimed it couldn't be sued in Rhode Island because it has sovereign immunity as an agency of the state of West Virginia, and that it was not properly notified of the conference's lawsuit.

On Dec. 27, Providence County Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein rejected all of the university's arguments for dismissal.

He has since ordered WVU and the Big East into non-binding mediation and has set a status conference for next week.

Meanwhile, the trial in West Virginia is set for June.

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