Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / News Stories / Commonwealth held in default

Commonwealth held in default

State and JMU sued in NY for tortious interference

A New York judge has entered default judgment against the Commonwealth of Virginia and James Madison University on a claim that the school tortiously interfered with the contract of the head basketball coach at Marist College.

Marist College sued Coach Matthew Brady, as well as JMU and the commonwealth, when Brady left Marist in 2008 for the head coach’s job at JMU. Brady was in the first year of a four-year contract with Marist and he took four basketball recruits from that school to JMU.

The Marist lawsuit jumped from a New York state court to federal court and back again. Those procedural maneuvers may have led to a failure of the commonwealth and JMU to file a timely answer in the New York state court.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Charles D. Wood granted Marist College’s motion for default judgment in an opinion dated June 30. A conference was scheduled for Monday, July 26, to set a date for determining damages.

The office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Wood’s opinion recounted the procedural posture of the lawsuit. Marist sued Brady, JMU and the commonwealth in the Supreme Court for Dutchess County, New York, on July 9, 2009. Brady filed an answer and a notice of removal. The case was removed from the state court to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In federal court, Marist moved to remand the case to state court. JMU and the commonwealth, apparently appearing for the first time, moved to dismiss the case. The motion to dismiss was based on theories of lack of subject matter and personal jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.

The federal court remanded the action back to the Dutchess County court on Dec. 28, 2009.

Fifty-two days later, on Feb. 18, apparently without any responsive pleadings in that court from JMU or the commonwealth, Marist filed a motion for default judgment.

The pleadings on behalf of JMU and the commonwealth were filed by John F. Knight as Assistant Attorney General and special counsel. Knight, known as “Jack” Knight, serves as general counsel for JMU. (Another John F. Knight is an administrator at JMU.)

Knight did not associate local counsel in New York, appearing pro hac vice instead. Knight could not be reached for comment.

Wood’s 11-page opinion primarily addressed JMU’s objections to the court’s jurisdiction over the defendants and the subject matter of the lawsuit. Wood found that JMU and the commonwealth were properly before the New York court because JMU’s alleged tortious actions in Virginia caused injury in New York.

“[W]here an out of state university allegedly raids a New York college’s prospective recruits, developed and cultivated by a head coach subject to a New York employment contract and funded by that college’s New York resources, it is foreseeable that injury will be felt in New York and that the defendants are subject to New York’s jurisdiction,” Wood wrote.

Wood rejected the claim of JMU and the commonwealth that the court did not have jurisdiction over the subject matter of the suit. The judge found that Marist had adequately pleaded the elements of actions for tortious interference with contract and tortious interference with fiduciary duty. The judge also rejected a motion based on Virginia as a more convenient forum for the dispute.

The opinion does not address Marist’s action against Brady, which remains pending.

The lawsuit alleged Brady breached his contract with Marist by not getting written consent before negotiating with JMU and by continuing to contact players he recruited for Marist after accepting the JMU head coach position. Marist also claimed that JMU offered scholarships to four Marist recruits, despite being advised of contract terms that barred Brady from having further contact with players being recruited by Marist.

When it was clear Brady was leaving for JMU, Marist officials invited JMU to “negotiate an amicable separation,” according to a Marist news release. “Their attempts were ignored by JMU, which considered Brady’s contract as unenforceable,” the release states.

“We would have preferred to have settled this matter much more amicably and avoid court, but it was obvious that JMU was not interested,” Marist attorney Paul O. Sullivan states in the news release.

“Now, the court has forced JMU to take the steps that should have been taken two years ago.”
Sullivan said there is no dollar amount demanded in the Marist complaint. He declined to project what he will request in terms of damages from JMU and the commonwealth.

JMU spokesman Don Egle declined to comment, noting the litigation was still pending.

Leave a Reply