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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Today in sanctionable lawsuits

A New Orleans Saints fan named David Mancina has filed a putative class action against Roger Goodell and the NFL, alleging that Goodell and the league's suspension of Saints players entitles Mancina and other Saints fans to damages from (I am not making this up) "the diminishment in the value of their tickets; their personal emotional reaction to the unwarranted penalties inflicted on their beloved team, players, coaches, and executives; and the deliberate reduction of the competitive capability of the Saints due to the selective gutting of the critical components needed to justify the loyalty of Plaintiff and the class." And according to the complaint, he actually had counsel to do this.

The first, obvious response is they lack standing. But the defects in this go so far beyond that. This has to be sanctionable, and I am not someone who is big on sanctions. If one of my students turned this in in a drafting exercise, she would fail.

1) The Complaint does not identify any claim, that is any right or legal obligation to the plaintiffs that Goodell or the league breached on the facts at issue. They  just ask for damages to fully compensate them, but assert no legal rule that entitles them to recovery, but they assert no legal right to recover. We teach in Civ Pro that "he violated my rights" or "he injured me" is not sufficient in a complaint, even pre-Twiqbal. You never expect to actually see one of those.

2) The prayer for relief asks "that Defendants be duly cited to appear and answer this complaint and after due proceedings for judgment against The Commissioner and the League for damages to fully compensate Plaintiffs, and the Class, for damages, and all other general and equitable relief required in the premises." This is utter nonsense. His prayer for relief is that they be made to respond to the complaint.

3) The complaint asserts as one basis of jurisdiction § 1331, but no indication of how this is a civil action "arising under" federal law.

I am tempted to use this in class next semester, as a sample complaint showing what you absolutely shouldn't do. But this is almost so bad as to not be a good illustration of what is bad. Almost.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 17, 2012 at 09:31 AM in Civil Procedure, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink

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I'll play.

Standing: As an initial matter, are you arguing that the plaintiff lacks common law standing (i.e., cognizability), prudential standing or Article III standing? With respect to the first, I read the complaint as alleging a tortious interference claim, which if I recall correctly from the boilerplate language on the back of sporting event tickets ("this ticket constitutes a license blah blah blah"), he may be able to do. With respect to the last, I think that he pretty clearly alleges an injury -- he has a license to watch a football game and certainly plans on going, and now his enjoyment has been diminished as a result. So that takes care of the Sierra Club issue. With respect to prudential standing, I think you'd probably have a decent third-party standing objection (because there's no reason the Saints wouldn't be able to bring their own lawsuit), though those are notoriously difficult to win in practice.

Legal claim: Again, I read the complaint to be alleging -- or at least alluding to -- a tortious interference claim. Yes, I'd like to see a more definite allegation of the existing of a contract between the Saints and the plaintiff, but he does use the word "interference" in the complaint. If it was before my judge, I'd probably dismiss WOP, but I'd do so in a way that signals that if the plaintiff is trying to bring a tortious interference claim, he needs to do so with more specificity.

Relief: Yes, the request that they appear before the Court is odd. But he does then ask to be compensated for damages.

Jurisdiction: OK, you're dead on about this. But he does plead diversity as well, and without looking to see if the NFL is an LLC with the teams as members (which would probably spoil that diversity), that's good enough.

(And just to be clear, it's an awful complaint alleging an awful legal theory. The lawyer either just agreed to sign something a lay man drafted, in which case that's sanctionable, or the lawyer actually drafted it, in which case the Louisiana bar needs to get involved to investigate his competence to practice law.)

Posted by: Joe (not that one) | Oct 17, 2012 10:44:57 AM

Federal question is mystifying and diversity is probably lacking because the NFL is an unincorporated association. However, I don't see the underlying claim as frivolous in the extreme. Season ticket holders certainly have standing to complain of actions by the league that reduce the value of their tickets. And in many jurisdictions, they would be able to make out a tortious interference claim if they could show that the league's actions against the saints were contrary to its bylaws or otherwise wrongful.

Posted by: AF | Oct 17, 2012 1:52:16 PM

One of my students sent me this yesterday, and we came to the same conclusion as Howard that the complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim. However, I also agree with AF that the tortious interference claim is at least colorable in some jurisdictions (not sure whether Louisiana is one of them), so Rule 11(b)(2) sanctions might not be warranted. Also, the total season ticket receipts for the Saints certainly exceeed $5,000,000; minimal diversity under 1332(d)(1) would seem to exist here even though one of the defendants is an unincorporated association; and the Saints may have enough season ticket holders from Mississippi and/or Texas to prevent the exceptions in (d)(4) from operating. But even if I'm correct, this is so close to the line (if not over it, as Howard says) as to make it a great teaching tool, not only for Rule 11, but also for 8(a) (which I agree this complaint falls far short of satisfying) and 1332(d)/Rule 23. I think I may make a practice exam problem out of it.

Posted by: Scott Bauries | Oct 17, 2012 2:27:35 PM

Diversity is OK because it's a class action under CAFA, which only requires minimal diversity. FWIW, the NFL is an unincorporated association, with 30 members, most of which are LLCs (I did some of the analysis when Jonathan Vilma sued Goodell). In any event, the plaintiff is from LA, Goodell is from NY, the amount-in-controversy exceeds $ 5 million, so there is diversity. That, of course, does not change the fact that the pleading of § 1331 probably was frivolous (although we don't know because he never identified a cause of action).

I am skeptical of the tortious interference claim. Season ticket holders have tried to sue teams for breach of contract for sucking and it never works (I think it was a case on "L.A. Law" once). So I don't see why it would fare any better going against the third party. Besides, doesn't there have to be some intent to interfere with a particular contractual relationship, which the league did not have here? My conduct that is unconnected to the contract between A and B, does not become tortious interference just because it incidentally affects the contract.

There is no third-party standing here. For one thing, I don't think the players' rights are "inextricably bound up" with those of the fans. For another, it would fail on the prong genuine obstacles to the right-holder (the players or the Saints) suing on their own. The only obstacle is the legal one that such a challenge to the suspensions is subject to the CBA; I don't see a court allowing parties to circumvent the CBA through third-party standing.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Oct 18, 2012 1:12:54 AM

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