Battle of the Bookstores

WVU students and parents will want to watch for the outcome of an appeal now pending before the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in The Book Exchange, Inc. v. West Virginia University, et al. – No. 34162, which is set for oral argument on Tuesday, February 24, 2009.  

The Book Exchange appeals from an order entered by the Circuit Court of Monongalia County dismissing its complaint alleging tortious interference with business relations, civil conspiracy and statutory claims against WVU, Barnes and Noble College Booksellers, Inc., and others. The briefs can be found on the Supreme Court’s website by clicking the following links:  The Book Exchange’s brief;  WVU’s response brief; Barnes and Noble’s response brief; and The Book Exchange’s reply brief.

The Book Exchange is a private bookseller in Morgantown with stores located on Wiley Street and Patterson Drive.  Barnes and Noble Bookseller’s Inc., one of the largest private booksellers in the country, holds the contract to manage WVU’s bookstores.  The crux of the dispute centers around the allegation that WVU and Barnes and Noble conspired and damaged the Book Exchange’s business by establishing $500.00 accounts for students at the WVU Bookstores.  

The Monongalia Circuit Court outlined the alleged facts as follows (the citations to the complaint’s paragraphs are omitted for reading convenience):

The pertinent facts pleaded in the complaint can be summarized briefly.  The plaintiff alleges that WVU and Barnes & Noble have entered into a contract for Barnes & Noble to operate the WVU Bookstore.  The contract provides for payment of a flat rent together with additional payments to WVU, in the event the sales by Barnes & Noble at the bookstore exceed specified thresholds (the “Contract”).  In addition, the contract provides for WVU to provide an “interface” with the Barnes & Noble computer system to streamline ordering books.  The focus of the complaint is on the implementation of that process, referred to as a Reserve Convenience Account.

The Book Exchange asserts defendant WVU has entered into an arrangement with Barnes & Noble under which students receiving financial aid from WVU are given an incentive to order textbooks through the bookstore. Under the Reserve Convenience Account program, a student receiving financial aid was automatically given a credit account for a period of time, at the WVU Bookstore, based on the financial aid awarded the student.  The credit is from funds that were awarded to the student as financial aid and would be available for a limited period in the beginning of the semester, after which unused portions are paid to the student.  Under the program, students were given notice that, in order to keep the account from being created, the student had to respond e-mail notices that the program would be implemented and affirmatively “opt out” of the program.  

This recitation of facts and the circuit court’s reasoning for its ruling dismissing the complaint can be found in its Order.  To get a reporter’s view of the case, check out the story about this appeal published by the Charleston Daily Mail last summer.  I will make a future post once the Supreme Court returns its opinion.  

While this case is not anticipated to impact mediation issues, I thought my readers, especially those with ties to WVU, might want to follow this story.  To hire me as a mediator in a case, or just to learn more about my mediation practice areas, click here “Mediating with Keith Jones.”

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