Big East will seek dismissal of WVU lawsuit
MORGANTOWN - Lawyers for the Big East said Thursday they will seek dismissal of a West Virginia University lawsuit aimed at invalidating conference bylaws and speeding up the Mountaineers' departure for the Big 12.
The news came two days after WVU lawyers used the same tactic and filed a motion in the Providence County (R.I.) Superior Court to dismiss the conference's lawsuit against the school.
On Thursday, the Gazette learned through Providence County Superior Court clerk Henry Kinch that arguments in that case will be held before Associate Justice Michael Silverstein on Dec. 16.
Meanwhile, at a scheduling conference in Morgantown, Big East attorneys said they plan to file a motion Monday in Monongalia County Circuit Court, asking Circuit Judge Russell Clawges to either dismiss the case or put it on hold while a parallel lawsuit plays out in Rhode Island, where the Big East is based.
WVU's similar motion claimed the Big East's lawsuit, filed after that of the school, "involves facts and circumstances that are identical to those" within the suit filed in Monongalia County.
Attorney Benjamin Block said on Thursday the Big East believes WVU has failed to lay a foundation for its claim that the bylaws are invalid. But if the judge believes there are grounds to move forward, he said, the case should be heard in Rhode Island.
WVU is trying to have the Big East's breach-of-contract lawsuit tossed from the Rhode Island court, arguing it has sovereign immunity as an agency of the state of West Virginia.
The Mountaineers are making plans to join the Big 12 in 2012. WVU argues it should be allowed to leave now because the Big East breached its fiduciary duty by failing to maintain a balance between football-playing and non-football members.
But the Big East is seeking unspecified damages and an order that West Virginia stay in the conference for 27 months. Commissioner John Marinatto says West Virginia helped construct the bylaws and agreed to abide by them.
WVU has already sent half of the required $5 million exit fee to the Big East. The university contends that by accepting the down payment, the Big East agreed to the immediate withdrawal.
WVU attorneys pressed Clawges to fast-track the West Virginia lawsuit, saying the university needs a resolution by June 30.
"We need to know whether we're going to stay or go,'' said attorney Stephen LaCagnin.
However, Clawges was doubtful such a timeline can be met.
"My immediate reaction is ... it ain't gonna happen,'' he said.
The judge agreed to an aggressive schedule for the West Virginia case but told the attorneys it will be up to them to make it happen. He also noted it could end with a settlement before getting to a jury.
"This is probably going to be worked out - as opposed to a jury room - in a conference room,'' he said.
WVU said it will reply to the Big East's motion to dismiss by Dec. 9, and Clawges has scheduled a hearing on the motions for 1 p.m. Dec. 19 in Morgantown. He may rule from the bench that day.
The trial is tentatively set for June 25, 2012.