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Pleadings: WVU Moves to Dismiss

With two separate lawsuits filed to ostensibly determine the same legal question — when West Virginia University will join the Big XII conference — a logical step in the proceedings is for one of them to be dismissed. West Virginia University (WVU) is hoping it will be the Big East-initiated suit in Rhode Island court that doesn't survive, and to that end they have responded to the initial complaint with a motion to dismiss.

In their motion (which you can read here), their attorneys, K&L Gates, claim that the suit must be dismissed because:

  1. The Rhode Island court lacks jurisdiction over WVU, which is for legal purposes the same as the State of West Virginia;
  2. As a part of the State of West Virginia, WVU is entitled to sovereign immunity to actions brought in courts of another state;
  3. If all things are equal otherwise, the doctrine of comity should cause the Rhode Island court to dismiss or stay its proceedings in favor of the earlier-filed action; and
  4. Even if Rhode Island could exercise jurisdiction over the matter, the court in West Virginia is a more appropriate venue.

Though I do not profess to be an expert in Rhode Island procedural law, each of those arguments seems reasonable. The Big East will have an opportunity to oppose the motion, however, and pick apart the WVU arguments.

In particular, they will have to argue that WVU is not able to exercise the sovereign immunity of its parent state government and that Rhode Island is in-fact able to exercise jurisdiction over WVU for the purposes of this suit. Arguing that comity requires the second suit to be dismissed is a good and reasonable argument, but like fourth argument (forum non conveniens), other facts can be brought into the discussion, and the Big East will likely have an easier time arguing against those.

Specifically, WVU cites the Federal District court decision in their case against former football coach Rich Rodriguez as precedent proving that the university and the state are legally the same entity (as well as other West Virginia court cases). The decisions of those courts will be very persuasive in whether the case is dismissed, but they do not create a binding precedent — which means that the Big East will need to find Rhode Island court rulings that hold otherwise or that can be interpreted and expanded to do so.

In addition to that opposition (the time to file which is likely within the next few weeks – but Rhode Island doesn't post procedural law online), the Big East will need to respond to the complaint in the West Virginia state court as well. In all likelihood that response will also be in the form of a motion to dismiss, as the conference must try to eliminate the less desirable venue as a possibility for this case. It is my belief that that motion and the opposition to WVU's motion in Rhode Island will use substantially similar arguments — in either case, they have to argue and prove that Rhode Island is the better and more appropriate venue.

[Updated 12:30p - the Big East's attorney now says that is exactly what the conference will do]

The Big East will need to file its response to the West Virginia court by Monday, but there will be a preliminary conference to handle scheduling and discovery matters today.

West Virginia will want a resolution to the case by June 30 to facilitate their leaving the conference officially on July 1, but due to discovery demands and other pre-trial litigation, a full resolution of the matter would be difficult by that point. The court (whichever court ultimately hears this case) will likely rule on any Big East injunction demand before that date, however, but the issue of a breach of contract and Big East damages may take longer to resolve.

In all likelihood, WVU seems poised to at least have the Rhode Island case stayed pending the resolution of the matter in West Virginia. The Big East will need a very convincing legal argument otherwise.