Present: Carrico, C.J., Compton, Stephenson, Lacy, Keenan,
and Koontz, JJ., and Whiting, Senior Justice
JEFFREY C. TUOMALA, ET AL.
v. Record No. 952286
OPINION BY JUSTICE BARBARA MILANO KEENAN
November 1, 1996
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF VIRGINIA BEACH
Edward W. Hanson, Jr., Judge
The primary issue in this appeal is whether an employer's
refusal to renew an employment contract under its original terms
constituted a breach of contract.
Three professors at Regent University (Regent), Jeffrey C.
Tuomala, Elaine Shouse Waller, and Clifford W. Kelly
(collectively, the professors), filed declaratory judgment suits
seeking a determination of rights under their faculty contracts.
The professors alleged that their contracts entitled them to
permanent tenured employment at Regent and requested the trial
court to declare that (1) they were entitled to a renewal of the
exact terms of their three-year continuing contracts, and (2)
they could not be dismissed from their positions as tenured
professors at Regent unless they were in breach of their
contracts, or unless the schools in which they taught were
discontinued. The professors also alleged under an estoppel
theory that they were entitled to annual renewal of their
contracts because they had reasonably relied to their detriment
on tenure policy statements made by Regent's agents.
The suits were consolidated and the trial court heard
evidence in a seven-day bench trial. The evidence showed that
each of the three professors had signed a faculty contract for
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the 1993-94 academic year (faculty contracts). These contracts
were signed by the president, the provost, and the dean of the
respective school in which each professor taught.
The provisions in dispute relate to the interpretation of
the contract phrase, "three-year continuing contract." These
provisions are set forth below.
The contracts each stated:
This three-year conti