It seems like the buzzer in the U of M/Tubby Smith/Jimmy Williams case has finally sounded. As reported by the Star Tribune, the Minnesota Supreme Court has reversed Williams’ $1 million jury award against the University of Minnesota and men’s basketball coach Orlando Henry “Tubby” Smith for negligent misrepresentation.
Justice Christopher Dietzen, writing for majority in the 3-2 decision (Chief Justice Gildea as well as Justices Page, Paul Anderson, and Stras all recused themselves), held that the University owed Williams no duty to protect against negligent misrepresentations by Smith. Because the University did not owe a duty of care, the threshold element of negligent misrepresentation (that a duty of care is owed by the defendant to the plaintiff), the entire claim failed as a matter of law.
There is no general duty of care to protect against negligent misrepresentations. Therefore, the Court had to analyze whether a government entity (the University) owes a duty of care to protect potential employees from negligent misrepresentations of its agent (Smith). In refusing to recognize this duty, the Court reasoned that (1) the relationship between Smith and Williams “in negotiating potential employment was not a professional, fiduciary, or special legal relationship in which one party had superior knowledge or expertise,” (2) the nature of Smith and Williams’ relationship, particularly the fact that Williams was a sophisticated party who had previously negotiated several similar contracts, did not support recognizing a duty of care, and (3) public policy did not warrant imposing a duty of care.
Beyond the legal implications of this decision, the most notable take-away is that the University won’t have to pay $1 million to Williams.
This case marks another high-profile and highly-publicized win for the University of Minnesota Office of General Counsel before the Minnesota Supreme Court.