PGA Tour Caddies Looking to Get Back in the Fairway of Human Billboard Case
On June 15, 2016 PGA Tour caddies filed a brief with the Ninth Circuit urging the appeals court to reverse dismissal of their lawsuit. Their argument is based on the caddies’ belief the California Judge presiding over the case was too quick in his dismissal, failing to give the caddies a chance to present all of their relevant evidence prior to dismissal.
Previously, the caddies filed an anti-trust class action lawsuit for misappropriation of their likeness and images in commercial activities by using them as “walking billboards.” They seek a share of the $50 million annual revenue generated from the PGA Tour’s requirement that caddies wear bibs which display sponsors’ logos. The caddies feel that by making them advertise some of the most profitable companies in the world, without due compensation, there exists a violation of their commercial rights. Precisely, the bibs cover a caddy’s entire upper body which is valuable advertising space they cannot use placing a massive restriction on their financial earnings. In response, the PGA Tour filed a motion to dismiss arguing under the current contract caddies cannot seek their own endorsements anyways and the bibs have historically been a key requirement for caddies. Right from the ‘opening tee-shot’ Judge Chabbria tended to agree and was skeptical of the lawsuit, even alluding to its early dismissal. The California Judge did indeed end up dismissing, finding the contract has no ambiguity and the PGA Tour has a long history, with no conflict, of caddies wearing sponsors’ bibs.
This is not the caddies’ first attempt to get out of this bunker, as back in October 2015 they filed numerous motions in opposition to the pending dismissal arguing that under the “uniform” clauses of their contract with the PGA Tour there is no mention made of bibs or clothing sponsorship. In the most recent brief in opposition to their suit’s dismissal filed on Wednesday, the caddies argue the California Judge refused production of evidence that would support their complaint or, at the very least, provide context for their lawsuit. Specifically, the caddies argue that in rushing to its conclusion the court abandoned well-established legal evidentiary standards in place of improper fact-finding expeditions including use of assumptions, hypotheticals, and extrinsic evidence before real evidence could be presented.
Of additional interest: although Judge Chabbria dismissed the case, he did note that the caddies have a valid ethical and moral complaint for poor treatment by the PGA Tour.