In the latest twist in West Virginia University’s $4 million lawsuit against Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez, a federal judge ruled yesterday to move the case back to the state court where the suit was originally filed.

U.S. District Court Judge John Bailey ruled that because West Virginia University is an “arm or alter ego” of the state of West Virginia, the case belongs in a state court – in this case, Monongalia County Circuit Court, where the university first filed the suit on Dec. 27.

West Virginia wants the court to force Rodriguez to pay the $4 million buyout clause in his contract, claiming that Rodriguez violated his contract when he signed a letter of intent to become Michigan’s new head football coach on Dec. 16.

On Jan. 16, Rodriguez’s lawyers successfully filed to move the case to a U.S. District Court, arguing that the case involved multiple states when Rodriguez signed the letter of intent. After signing the letter, Rodriguez received a Michigan driver’s license, signed a lease on an apartment in Michigan and was registered to vote in Michigan.

While the case was in federal court, Rodriguez filed a $1.5 million letter of credit through the Bank of Ann Arbor, founded by Athletic Director Bill Martin, which said he had the means to pay that amount if a federal court found him liable.

But Rodriguez’s letter of credit only applied if the case was heard in federal court, meaning it now has no value.

On Jan. 29, Jeffrey Wakefield, an attorney representing West Virginia, asked the federal court for permission to investigate whether Rodriguez was a citizen of West Virginia when the suit was filed in an attempt to move the case back to the state level. He said he dropped that investigation because of the judge’s announcement yesterday.

“With the judge’s decision that the university is an agent of the state, it became irrelevant where he lived at the time of suit,” Wakefield said.

Although there is no time frame for proceeding with the suit in state court, Wakefield said he would try to resolve the case before a state judge as soon as possible.

Athletic Department spokesman Bruce Madej and Marvin Robon, an attorney representing Rodriguez, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Although Rodriguez signed a letter of intent to coach at the University of Michigan nearly two months ago that included salary figures, potential contract length and incentives information, he has yet to sign a contract with the University.

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