Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Baseball's Antitrust Exemption in the News

Baseball's antitrust exemption has recently been the focus of two unrelated news stories.  First, in the continuing saga of the Oakland Athletics' attempted move to San Jose (see earlier Sports Law Blog posts from 2009 and 2012, respectively, for more background), San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed sent a letter to MLB commissioner Bud Selig on Tuesday requesting a meeting to discuss the A's proposed relocation.  In the letter, Reed urged that a meeting could help avoid "additional litigation," an indication that the city may be considering whether to sue MLB to help boost the A's relocation efforts.  Indeed, Mayor Reed's request comes on the heels of a threat last month from San Jose Councilman Sam Liccardo, who reportedly discussed "the possibility of San Jose or local businesses challenging baseball's long-standing antitrust exemption in a lawsuit, something he [said] private attorneys would take on at no cost to the city."  Liccardo previously made a similar threat back in 2012, however, so it is unclear whether he or the city would actually be willing to follow through with an antitrust suit against MLB.  Update (4/11/13): Bud Selig has officially declined Mayor Reed's offer to meet.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated case, a Florida state court judge recently refused to dismiss an antitrust suit filed against the minor leagues in spite of baseball's antitrust exemption.  The suit was filed last year by the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring against the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues -- the entity officially governing minor league baseball -- and alleges that it unlawfully restrained trade by revoking the Evans Academy's accreditation to train professional umpires, after it established its own umpire training academy (the NAPBL reportedly contends that it revoked the accreditation due to a racist bowling party sponsored by the Evans Academy).   

In a decision issued on March 28, Judge Lisa Munyon denied a motion to dismiss filed by the NAPBL, holding that baseball's antitrust exemption did not apply to the case.  Judge Munyon primarily based her decision on the 1994 Butterworth v. National League precedent, in which the Supreme Court of Florida held that baseball's antitrust exemption only shielded the reserve clause (the restraint historically used to tie a player to his team for life).  The Butterworth court reached its decision by relying on a questionable decision from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the 1993 case of Piazza v. Major League Baseball.  Although I have previously argued that both the Piazza and Butterworth decisions were wrongly decided, Judge Munyon was nevertheless bound to adhere to the Butterworth opinion in the Evans Academy's case.  A trial in the case has tentatively been scheduled for March 31, 2014, although it remains to be seen whether the minor leagues will appeal this most recent decision. 

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