(CN) – A basketball coach who tried to join Tubby Smith’s staff at the University of Minnesota cannot prevail on negligent misrepresentation claim, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled.
James R. “Jimmy” Williams sued the university and Smith, claiming that the head coach misrepresented that he had authority to hire him.
Smith took over as coach of the Golden Gophers in 2007, and he considered Williams for a spot at one of his assistants.
At the time, Williams was in the second year of a three-year contract as an assistant at Oklahoma State University.
Williams had also served as an assistant at Minnesota from 1971 to 1986. However, the NCAA penalized Minnesota during that time and found that Williams had personally committed multiple violations of NCAA rules.
Williams resigned at Oklahoma State, but Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi learned about the violations and decided not to hire Williams, who did not find coaching position for the following basketball season.
Williams sued Smith and the university for negligent misrepresentation and won. The court of appeals affirmed the decision.
However, the university won a buzzer-beater at the Minnesota Supreme Court, which found the defendants’ conduct “unfair and disappointing” but not actionable due to the fact that Williams and Smith were not in a relationship “in which one party had superior knowledge or expertise,” according to Justice Christopher Dietzen, who wrote the opinion on behalf of the court.
“When a prospective government employment relationship is negotiated at arm’s length between sophisticated business persons and does not involve a professional, fiduciary or other special legal relationship between the parties, the prospective employee is not entitled to protection against negligent misrepresentations by the representative for the prospective government employer,” Dietzen added.
Justice Helen Meyer dissented in part from his colleagues’ opinion, stating that he would have affirmed the decisions of the lower courts.
“I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion that public policy does not support imposing a duty of care on the University to supply accurate and truthful information to a prospective employee. The majority ignores our case law that expressly recognizes a cause of action against the government for negligent misrepresentations of fact when there is no other access to the information.”
Williams is now an assistant coach at the University of Memphis, while Smith is under contract to the Gophers until 2017.