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The court reversed a $1 million verdict against the University of Minnesota and Tubby Smith.

Hight court: No rebound for Jimmy Williams

Declining Jimmy Williams’ invitation to extend the tort of negligent misrepresentation to government employment relationships, the Minnesota Supreme Court today reversed a $1 million damage award to Williams.  Williams had sued the University of Minnesota and basketball coach Tubby Smith because, he said, he was offered a job at Minnesota and the job offer was rescinded because Smith did not have hiring authority.

Smith did not owe Williams a duty of care not to mislead him in the negotiations, the court said. “[W]hen a prospective government employment relationship is negotiated at arm’s length between sophisticated business persons who do not have a professional, fiduciary, or other special legal relationship, the prospective employee is not entitled to protection against negligent misrepresentations by the representative for the prospective government employer,” the court said, in a divided opinion written by Justice Christopher Dietzen. 

The court also said, “We believe that the manner in which appellants treated Williams regarding his prospective employment with the University was unfair and disappointing. We do not condone their conduct.”

2 comments

  1. The Court made an appropriate clarification and narrowing of the scope of duty of care in arm’s length discussions of job offers for employers, public or private, for purposes of the tort of negligent misrepresentation. I wish, however, they had also reached the question and discussed whether there was reasonable reliance in this case. The most notable aspect of the decision, apart from the unusual number of recusals, was that the facts occured so long ago (2007) that Smith sent his resume by fax, not email.

  2. Paul Landskroener

    Claiming damages caused by “reasonable reliance” on another’s promise is a contract-based claim which I think the plaintiff had to bring via a writ of certerori to the Court of Appeals (because the defendant was the University of Minnesota). He didn’t do that, so he was left with the tort claim of negligent misrepresentation. I don’t know whether his decision to bring the tort claim rather than the contract claim was intentional.

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