Packers Fan Suing Bears Over Fan Gear Survives Motion to Dismiss
On March 30, 2018, U.S. District Judge Joan B. Gottschall ruled that Russell Beckman, a longtime Green Bay Packers fan, did not established that he had standing to sue the NFL, but he did meet his burden in his First Amendment claim against the Chicago Bears. As we have previously covered, Beckman, representing himself, sued the NFL and the Chicago Bears after he was not allowed entry to a Bears Season Ticket Holder Experience event at Soldier Field because he was wearing Green Bay Packers clothing. Beckman is a season ticket holder for both the Packers and the Bears, but only attended Bears games at Soldier Field when they played the Packers. In 2016, after purchasing a sideline pass for the Packers vs. Bears game in Chicago, Beckman was denied access to the field due to his elaborate Packers game day outfit. The Bears notified fans of the new policy but Beckman decided to wear his gear anyway.
According to Judge Gottachall’s opinion, Beckman’s complaint did not establish that his injury, being denied access to the field, was fairly traceable to the NFL. However, to bring his First Amendment claim against the Bears and survive a motion to dismiss, Beckman is required to show that he suffered an injury, that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the a state actor, and that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. The issue was whether the Bears were “state actors” when they denied Beckman’s access to the field. According to Judge Gottachall, it was plausible that the Bears were state actors when the denied Beckman access to the field. According to Judge Gottachall, taken together, the complaint and the operating agreement, rise to the level of a plausible claim that the CPD and the Bears’ operations were enmeshed enough to find that state action had occurred.
“At its most basic level, the state action doctrine requires that a court find such a close nexus between the State and the challenged action that the challenged action may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.” Beckman conceded that while the Bears, as a private corporation, usually would not qualify as a state actor, he argued that the implementation of their operating agreement had a close enough relationship to satisfy the requirement. Specifically, Beckman argued that his rights were violated at a “publicly owned, publicly financed facility” because the operating agreement, between the Bears and the Chicago Park District (CPD), a state actor, demonstrated that two were “jointly engaged.” In response, the Bears argued that even though Soldier Field was built with public money, and the CPD leased the property to the Bears, it not enough to make a Bears’ policy a CPD decision. Beckman also argued that under the operating agreement, all Bears programs were subject to the CPD approval. In response, the Bears argued that under the operating agreement, the CPD was “responsible for security and crowd control at Soldier Field,” but not for the security at the “Team Areas and the Field.”
Beckman is not suing for financial damages except to recoup any legal fees. “This is not about me shaking down the Bears,” he said, “[t]his is about me trying to get the Bears to change what I think is a misguided policy.” Beckman only wants the Bears to reverse their on-field gear restriction policy and allow him to take part in the various on field experiences at Soldier Field in his Packers fan gear.