Sports Litigation Case Law Update February 2015

This month’s sports litigation case law update demonstrates how sports can touch a broad variety of areas of law, from environmental challenges to medical malpractice to contract claims to constitutional due process.  The common thread this month – defendants went undefeated.


Sacramento’s Downtown Arena Project Withstands Challenge Under the California Environmental Quality Act 

Saltonstall v. City of Sacramento, 2015 WL 708608 (Cal. Ct. of App., Feb. 18, 2015)

The California state appellate court faced a challenge under the California Environmental Quality Act to certification of an environmental impact report and approval of a project to build a new arena in downtown Sacramento for the Sacramento Kings professional basketball team.  The court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the challenge, concluding that the City did not prematurely commit itself to approving the downtown arena project.  The court noted that the City studied the option of remodeling the Sleep Train Arena, where the Kings have played since 1988, as well as an alternative that involved building a new arena next to the current arena, but both alternatives failed to meet the City’s goal for the project of revitalizing the downtown area.  The court also held that any failure to study post-event crowd safety and potential for violence does not implicate the California Environmental Quality Act and does not compel an environmental impact report review.


College Baseball Player’s Medical Malpractice Suit Dismissed

Ratledge v. Perdue, 2015 WL 680328 (N.C. Ct. of App., Feb. 17, 2015)

The plaintiff, a baseball player at East Carolina University, suffered a fractured hamate hook in his left hand requiring surgery to repair.  During the surgery, the surgeon severed player’s ulnar nerve.  The player underwent multiple additional surgical procedures which were ultimately unable to reattach the nerve and did not return functionality to plaintiff’s hand.  The appellate court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s malpractice action against the defendant orthopedic surgeon, holding that plaintiff failed to comply with North Carolina’s certification of merit requirement prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations.  The court explained that “[t]he trial court’s findings, which are supported by competent evidence submitted to the trial court at the Rule 9(j) compliance hearing, establish that plaintiff never received any definitive confirmation that [plaintiff’s expert] either believed that plaintiff’s treatment by Dr. Perdue fell below the applicable standard of care or that [the expert] would testify to that effect.”


Player Not Responsible To Pay Agent’s Recruiter

Duckett v. Williams, 2015 WL 556630 (SDNY, Feb. 6, 2015)

The Southern District of New York addressed whether a National Football League Players Association Standard Representation Agreement (“SRA”) Disclosure Form is a binding contract that entitles plaintiff to one-third of the proceeds from the defendant player’s NFL contracts for “for recruiting or helping to recruit” defendant to sign a SRA with the player’s agents.  The court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims for breach of contract, declaratory judgment, and fraudulent inducement.  The court stated that “[t]here is no assertion in the Amended Complaint that Plaintiff was a party to the SRA Disclosure Form, nor is Plaintiff a signatory to it; therefore, the SRA Disclosure Form does not constitute a meeting of the minds between Plaintiff and Defendant” and held that “the Court has little difficulty determining that Defendant never agreed to compensate Plaintiff, as a third-party beneficiary, for his alleged recruitment activities.”  The court further held that “Plaintiff’s mere hope that he would be compensated by Defendant, without more, is legally insufficient to establish detrimental reliance,” which is necessary for a fraudulent inducement claim.  In dismissing the case, the court admonished the plaintiff for his “remarkable chutzpah.”


Tortious Interference with Contractual Relations Claim By Soccer Coach Against Players Union Preempted by the NLRA

Nowak v. Major League Soccer, LLC, 2015 WL 480530 (E.D. Pa., Feb. 5, 2015)

In 2012, the manager of professional soccer’s Philadelphia Union, Piotr Nowak, was fired for “physical confrontations with players and officials; interfering with the rights of players to contact the players’ union; subjecting players to inappropriate hazing activities; and engaging in behavior that put the health and safety of players at risk” after an investigation demanded by the Major League Soccer Players Union and conducted by Major League Soccer.  Mr. Nowak filed suit against the League and the Players Union for tortious interference with contractual relations.  The federal district court granted the Players Union’s motion to dismiss, holding that the coach’s suit against the Union was preempted by the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  The court explained that “Nowak’s claim is centrally founded on the fact that MLSPU asked for an investigation and demanded Nowak’s termination—conduct that is arguably protected by the NLRA.”


High School Football Coach’s Conduct Did Not Shock the Conscience

Votta v. Castellani, 2015 WL 294253 (2d Cir., Jan. 23, 2015)

Six high school football players filed suit against the school district, its superintendent, and the high school football coach alleging violations of substantive due process based on the coach’s “alleged conduct that infringed on the right to bodily integrity” including “handling the players roughly, grabbing their facemasks and shoulder pads, shaking them, and screaming at them in such close proximity that he spat on them.”  The district court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss and the Second Circuit affirmed, holding that “[s]uch minor infringement, even considered in the aggregate, is certainly insufficient to permit a reasonable jury to determine that it shocked the conscience.”  The court noted that the allegation that the coach “directed his players to intentionally injure opponents, especially the most talented opponents, exhorting his players to break opponents’ fingers and target their half-healed knees. . . . is repugnant and, if proved at trial, such outrageous misbehavior, by itself or in combination with other offensive actions, could permit a reasonable jury to find that it shocked the conscience and caused serious emotional and physical harms to a player who was the victim of such intentional conduct ordered by the coach.”  This allegation, however, did not affect the dismissal of the case because none of the plaintiffs in the case was a victim of such conduct.


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