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Statement by University of Minnesota General Counsel about Supreme Court decision on Williams v. Smith and U of M

August 8, 2012

The Minnesota Supreme Court today ruled in favor of Coach Tubby Smith and the University of Minnesota in the case brought against them by James R. Williams. The ruling finally concludes the long-running legal dispute, and means the university will owe nothing to Williams.

The Court’s decision holds that Williams’ “mistaken assumption” that Coach Smith had final authority to hire Williams cannot support a legal claim against Smith or the university. The Court declared that Smith could not have misled Williams about his hiring authority because Smith told Williams that Athletics Director Joel Maturi had final authority over the hiring decision before Williams resigned his position at Oklahoma State. The Court went on to declare that Williams’ sole claim against Smith and the university – negligent misrepresentation – simply is not a valid legal basis to sue Smith or the university in this context.

University of Minnesota General Counsel Mark Rotenberg issued the following statement in response to the opinion: “The university is pleased with today’s decision, which finally puts an end to this case and vindicates our longstanding position that Williams’ claims against Coach Smith and the university had no legal merit. We are particularly gratified by the Court’s clear recognition that Smith did not mislead Willliams into quitting his job at OSU. Williams’ mistaken assumption was unfortunate, but that did not justify five years of litigation against the university.”

Background
This case originated in 2007 when Williams brought an action against the university and Maturi, alleging that the university’s men’s basketball coach, Smith, offered him an assistant coaching position. Williams said he accepted the offer, resigned his position as assistant coach at Oklahoma State and placed his house on the market.

The U of M agreed that Smith had interviewed Williams, but pointed out that an employment agreement was never reached between Williams and the university. Nor did the university encourage Williams to leave OSU and move to Minnesota. The reason the university never gave Williams an employment contract was Williams’ record of significant NCAA recruiting violations when he was an assistant basketball coach at the U of M from 1971-1986. Maturi and Smith could not overlook Williams’ significant prior record of infractions on the U’s campus.

While the Hennepin County District Court dismissed most of Williams’ claims, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Williams on a claim of negligent misrepresentation and he was awarded more than $1 million. The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court ruling in October 2011. A month later, the university appealed the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court, and oral arguments were held May 3, 2012.

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