(WTXL) - Pointing to “ambiguities,” an appeals court Tuesday rejected lower-court rulings in two cases about Florida A&M University’s termination of the contracts of former men’s basketball coach Clemon Johnson and former football coach Earl Holmes.
The coaches filed similar breach-of-contract lawsuits against the university after they were fired before the end of what they contend were guaranteed four-year contracts.
Leon County Circuit Judge James Shelfer last year ruled in favor of the university, granting summary judgment in both cases.
But in a 12-page consolidated decision Tuesday, a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned those rulings and sent the cases back to circuit court for further proceedings.
Judge Ross Bilbrey, in an opinion joined by Chief Judge Brad Thomas and Judge Timothy Osterhaus, wrote that they found, “based on the expressed terms of the agreements and reading the agreements and incorporated regulations as a whole, that ambiguities exist,” requiring the case to go back to the lower court.
Johnson, who was fired in April 2014 after three years as the basketball coach, has argued, in part, that he had a four-year guaranteed contract and that the university breached it by firing him a year early for “convenience.”
But FAMU said in court documents that it followed university regulations in deciding not to reappoint Johnson.
Similarly, Holmes served as football coach from February 2013 to January 2015. Holmes contended that he had a guaranteed four-year contract and that his termination violated the contract.
Johnson and Holmes played at Florida A&M as students and later went on to pro careers in the NBA and the NFL, respectively.