Minors Sue MLB Over Antitrust Status in Wake of NCAA Alston Case
Should Big league Baseball still take pleasure in an antitrust exemption provided the U.S. Supreme Court’s current judgment that the NCAA isn’t owed favoritism under antitrust law?
That is the core concern raised in a federal suit submitted Monday by 4 minors baseball groups, removed of their MLB associations. Their case versus MLB will be heard by Judge Arthur Carter in the Southern District of New York City.
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The groups—the Staten Island Yankees, the Norwich Sea Unicorns, the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes and the Tri-City ValleyCats—are no complete strangers to lawsuits versus MLB. As detailed on Sportico, the now-defunct SI Yankees are taking legal action against MLB and the New York City Yankees in state court for breach of agreement and associated claims. Their match competes that MLB’s culling of associations with 43 minors clubs broke the law. The ValleyCats submitted a comparable suit versus MLB and the Houston Astros.
The latest suit asserts that MLB and its 30 groups unlawfully conspired to “boycott” groups they removed of associations. In a problem authored by David Lending institution, a partner at Weil Gotshal who has actually effectively prosecuted on behalf of ESPN and other business, the groups blast MLB’s reorganization as “nothing less than a naked, horizontal agreement to cement MLB’s dominance over all professional baseball.” Berg & Androphy’s James Quinn, who effectively represented NFL gamers in prosecuting totally free company in the 1990s, is likewise counsel.
The grievance argues that MLB severed ties with clubs “without regard to competitive merit,” rather valuing whether clubs “were already owned by MLB clubs” or “otherwise served MLB interests.” To show, the Asheville Tourists, an Astros Single-A affiliate, were spared because—as the grievance informs it—they’re owned by an effective political figure, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.
The grievance yields the groups can just dominate if a longstanding understanding of the law is reinterpreted. For almost 100 years, MLB has actually delighted in an exemption from federal antitrust law.
In 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court kept in Federal Baseball Club v. National League that MLB is exempt to federal antitrust law due to the fact that federal antitrust claims need interstate commerce. Games are just played in one state, which led the court to conclude that interstate activity was not present.
That design of thinking corresponded with the court’s rigorous conception of interstate commerce in the early 20th century. Nevertheless, more modern analysis would worry that MLB groups take a trip throughout state lines which devices, broadcasts, Web streams and other game-related company regularly cross states. To that point, the court would later refuse to exempt boxing (1955) and football (1957) from antitrust scrutiny despite the fact that, like baseball, their games/bouts are held in one state.
But as Curt Flood would discover in 1972, “stare decisis”—Latin for “to stand by things decided”—is a powerful legal principle. Flood argued that MLB and its clubs agreeing to use the reserve clause, which allowed groups to renew player contracts on a year-to-year basis, violated antitrust law. The Supreme Court was sympathetic to Flood but held against him on the basis that the court had already exempted MLB from antitrust claims. The court noted that if Congress wanted MLB to face antitrust scrutiny, it should pass a law saying as much.
Fast forward to 1998, a year after Flood passed away. Congress and President Bill Clinton heeded the Court’s advice. The Curt Flood Act was enacted, and it narrowed MLB’s antitrust exemption. The act clarified that “MLB players are covered under the antitrust laws [and] have the same rights under the antitrust laws as do other professional athletes.” In other words, when the issue at hand is MLB players’ salaries and other aspects of employment, MLB is no longer immune from antitrust scrutiny. To evade such scrutiny, MLB must collectively bargain workplace rules with MLBPA—a relevant point as MLB and MLBPA attempt to negotiate a new CBA amid a lockout.
The act, however, limits its scope to MLB players. It thereby leaves in place MLB’s antitrust exemption for minor league baseball, ownership sales, licensing of intellectual property, the amateur draft and franchise relocation.
Undaunted, the four minor league teams maintain the antitrust exemption has become a notorious “get-out-of-jail-free card” and is now ripe for challenge.
Writing on behalf of all nine justices in Alston, Justice Neil Gorsuch noticeably criticized Federal Baseball Club as illogical. “In Federal Baseball Club … the Court,” Justice Gorsuch wrote, “reasoned that ‘exhibitions’ of ‘base ball’ did not implicate the Sherman Act because they did not involve interstate trade or commerce—even though teams regularly crossed state lines (as they do today) to make money and enhance their commercial success.” He added that the court has since “acknowledged criticisms of the decision as ‘unrealistic’ and ‘inconsistent’” and “aberrational.”
The teams believe that Justice Gorsuch was all but inviting an opportunity to overrule Federal Baseball Club. “Plaintiffs,” the complaint surmises, “have objectively good reasons to believe that the Supreme Court would no longer apply the . . . baseball antitrust exemption if presented with a proper case for reconsidering it. This is that case.” The complaint also insists that while Flood’s loss “caused the Supreme Court to continue the baseball exemption,” the continuation only concerned player movement. “This case has nothing to do with the reserve clause.”
MLB will answer the complaint, deny the allegations and argue the teams have misread case law.
In Flood, the court did not say the exemption would only continue for player movement. The court invited Congress to act, and it did so—but in a way that MLB will cast in a favorable light. Congress preserved the exemption for matters related to minor league baseball. Further, although members of Congress have periodically introduced legislation to rescind the exemption, none has advanced. It would seem, MLB is poised to contend, that Congress has spoken and decided to maintain the exemption for minor league baseball.
MLB will also downplay Justice Gorsuch’s commentary about MLB as mere dicta, meaning commentary within a judicial opinion that is not essential to the holding and has diminished precedential effect. The court in Alston held the NCAA and member schools unlawfully conspired to restrict compensation for academic-related costs. Discussion of MLB’s exemption—a different legal construction than preferential treatment for the NCAA—was seemingly not essential.
The case is years away from landing at the Supreme Court, if it ever gets that far. The teams demand a jury trial, which wouldn’t be scheduled until well into 2022 or later on, followed by a potential appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and, thereafter, a possible petition to the Supreme Court. Most likely the case will end before the Supreme Court considers taking it.
However in litigation, as in baseball, sometimes the unlikely happens.
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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long included to this report.