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University, The Copy Shop clash

Kate Antonacci | Monday, November 21, 2005

After nearly three months of legal battle, The Copy Shop and the University are still in the midst of a lawsuit, as both sides fight to possess the same space in the basement of LaFortune Student Center.

On Aug. 26, the University filed a lawsuit in the St. Joseph Circuit Court in Mishawaka against Copy Services Inc. asking the courts for immediate possession of the property. Copy Services inc. operates under the name The Copy Shop.

“We are not going to comment at all from the University while litigation is going on,” said University spokesperson Matt Storin.

According to Tim Wright, owner of The Copy Shop in Notre Dame’s LaFortune Center, the University wanted the space because it had already made commitments to FedEx Kinkos, which has already opened a copy center in Grace Hall.

“This is obviously a legal dispute,” Wright said. “It started out by the University filing a summons and complaint in which the University asked the court to award them immediate possession of the LaFortune Copy Shop space.”

The Copy Shop is an independent business, not affiliated with the University. The shop provides copying, scanning and faxing services, and handles print jobs for students, employees, academic departments and other community members.

The dispute began shortly after Wright sent his lease to the University in January 2005, as he had done every year since he took over the shop in 2001.

“A couple months later, the University sent a letter saying they did not accept our offer to renew,” Wright said. “Now, I sent them a letter and I said this was not an offer. It was the exercise of an option. That’s the basic dispute that the University was involved in with us when they filed their complaint. They said it was an offer, we said it wasn’t.”

For Wright, and former owner Dan Foley, the lawsuit pits them against their alma mater.

“We shouldn’t have had to do this. None of this from my view should have happened at my Catholic University,” said Wright, a 1963 Notre Dame graduate. “One part of it does a superb job in teaching what it means to be a Catholic university, but then there’s another part of the University that either doesn’t get it or doesn’t believe it.”

Foley, a triple Domer with a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and law degree from the University, started the shop on campus in 1989.

When Foley started The Copy Shop, a lease was drafted and included an “option to renew.” Though renegotiated in 1998, the option to renew was kept in the lease, Wright said.

This option gives an owner an explicit option to renew the lease until the owner decides he or she does not want the space anymore or until they violate a rule of the lease, such as failing to pay rent. The provision gives the tenant the ability to let the landlord know of his or her intention to exercise the option of renewal and continue to use and occupy the rental premises for the duration of the option period, Wright said.

“Pre-1989, the University prepared two draft leases in the negotiation process with Dan Foley. Neither of those two leases contained the renewal clauses that are at dispute now,” Wright said. “Under both of those drafts the University or the copy shop could walk away with appropriate notice for any reason or no reason at all.”

However, in discussions with Foley, the University agreed to add restrictions, largely because of Foley’s large economic investment in the shop.

“He needed some guarantee that the University would not arbitrarily just pitch him out,” Wright said, adding that it was at this point that the option to renew was added. “The 1998 lease is the lease that we are currently under now. Both the 1998 lease and the 1989 lease contain this renewal provision,” Wright said. “That language did not change from the first lease in 1989 to the second lease in 1998. It’s identical.”

It is under this provision, Wright said, that The Copy Shop renewed its lease for one more year ending June 30, 2006. The lease term is from July 1 to June 30 and it mirrors the University’s fiscal year.

“The issue, from the University’s perspective, is whether or not we properly renewed the lease,” he said.

Though on Sept. 30 a judge issued an order saying that The Copy Shop’s lease is valid for the 2005-06 renewal, the judge does not have say over whether or not The Copy Shop can renew each year or just this one time, Wright said.

“The only way the University can require us to leave is if we are in violation of the lease itself. We have the right to the space … until they tear the building down,” Wright said.

Wright said, since the lawsuit began, The Copy Shop has been treated differently by the University.

“My affidavit talks about some of the things that the University has done in the interim. There are certain types of conduct that the University has engaged in to try to force us to get out,” Wright said.

Each year, for example, Wright said he worked with the Hammes Bookstore to produce course packets or course material to be sold to students. This year, The Copy Shop has not been contacted as frequently for such business. Wright also said that Notre Dame has tried to exclude him from the system allowing individual departments to charge orders to University accounts.

“With this business what you see if what you get. Ninety to 95 percent of the revenues are through the interdepartmental services. They take that off and we’re dead,” Wright said. “I filed a motion and asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction to tell the University to stop doing the things they’re doing … My biggest concern is that the University will drive us into bankruptcy. We’re trying to set up another shop – but our long-term debt won’t be paid off for another year and a half.”