City of San Jose resumes its fight against MLB’s Antitrust Exemption

Last fall U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte dismissed a lawsuit filed by the city of San Jose against Major League Baseball (MLB) in which the city claimed that MLB had wrongfully prevented San Jose from enticing the Oakland A’s to relocate to Silicon Valley. Judge Whyte had reasoned that MLB’s antitrust exemption – a status bestowed on the league in a 1922 Supreme Court decision – barred the suit and required that the action be dismissed.

On March 5, city attorneys filed a brief appealing Judge Whyte’s decision at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that MLB’s antitrust status should be revoked.  In short, the city argued that the league’s antitrust exemption should be applied very narrowly and only in player-management labor disputes, not as a broad exemption from lawsuits such as the city’s relocation action.  Phil Gregory, an attorney for the city, commented on the prior ruling by stating that it was “hard to believe [MLB] is not subject to the same antitrust rules that apply to other sports.”  Part of the brief by the city’s attorneys noted, “There is no basis to conclude . . . that MLB’s ability to block the relocation of the [A’s] to a lucrative market like San Jose is in any way essential to our national pastime.”  The league’s response to the filing is due on April 4 of this year.

Apparently, the A’s have been seeking to relocate since 2009, but have faced strong opposition from both MLB and the San Francisco Giants – the team that holds the territorial rights to the South Bay area.   As the owner of the territorial rights to the area, the Giants have the power to veto the A’s relocation unless the A’s can convince the league to approve it.  League approval of the measure would require a ¾ vote of all MLB clubs.  Documents filed as part of the lawsuit indicated that MLB Commissioner Bud Selig most recently denied a relocation request by A’s owner Lew Wolff in June of last year.

A full copy of the court filing is available here.

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