Fan May Lack Standing to Force the Giants and Jets to (Re)Locate Back to New York

Jan 28, 2022

By Robert J. Romano, JD LLM, St. John’s University. Senior Writer

On January 3, 2022, New York City Resident, Abdiell Suero, filed a nineteen-page federal complaint against the New York Football Giants Inc., the New York Jets, LLC, and MetLife Stadium Company, LLC in the U.S District Court, Southern District of New York alleging that the two NFL franchises have been falsely and deceptively using the ‘New York’ and ‘NY’ name and logo as part of their franchises’ nomenclature, even though both are located in the state of New Jersey.[1] Filed as a class action on behalf of himself and all those similarly situated, the plaintiff claims that he has been damaged because of the  false branding and out-of-state location of the two teams and asserts the following causes of action: false advertising, deceptive practices, violation of Civil RICO laws, and unjust enrichment.

As for relief, the plaintiff seeks an order from the court requiring the two professional football franchises to return to New York (whether it’s the city or the state is unclear) upon the conclusion of their individual lease agreements with MetLife Stadium, LLC, and that until such time, both teams be required to rename and rebrand their franchises as the New Jersey Giants and New Jersey Jets.[2] In addition, the plaintiff seeks a monetary award totaling $6 billion dollars – $2 billion in compensatory damages and $4 billion in punitive damages.[3] Since, however, this case was filed as a class action, it may have a difficult time surviving a timely filed motion to dismiss for one of the following two reasons.

First, to file a suit in federal court, a party must have Article III standing.[4] In the matter of TransUnion v. Ramirez, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Article III standing ensures that federal courts only “resolve a real controversy with real impact on real persons”, while at the same time prohibiting the certification of a class and a damages award where the majority of class members lack actual injury.[5] The U.S. Supreme Court went on to find that when determining whether a plaintiff has standing to sue in federal court, he or she must demonstrate, among other things, that they suffered a concrete harm. No concrete harm, no standing.[6]

Central to assessing concreteness is whether the asserted harm has a “close relationship” to a harm traditionally recognized as providing a basis for a lawsuit in American courts—such as physical harm, monetary harm, or various intangible harms including reputational harm.[7] The holding in by the U.S. Supreme Court in the TransUnion case is about the jurisdiction of federal courts, so therefore plaintiffs, while filing a federal lawsuit, must allege, and eventually proving, that they suffered a concrete and specific injury.

Mr. Suero alleges in his complaint that it has taken him upwards of four hours to travel to MetLife Stadium and that “roundtrip transportation costs . . .  this season exceeded $200.00 for a single game which costs nearly as much as the game tickets themselves”[8]In highlighting the significance of the time and costs associated with going to a professional football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Mr. Suero claims that from his Greenwich Village home in the City, he can arrive at Madison Square Garden in 13 minutes to watch the Knicks, while also getting to the Bronx in 33 minutes to catch a Yankee game, and to Citi Field in 54 minutes to see the Mets, all for a $2.75 subway ride.[9]

Although one can sympathize with those who travel out of the five boroughs to see either of these two professional footballs teams engage in a business that grosses, collectively, over $14 billion a season, the plaintiff’s allegation may not enough for a court to find that he suffered ‘concrete harm’. And as the U.S. Supreme Court articulated in its TransUnion decision – ‘No concrete harm, no standing.”

Second, it may be difficult for the plaintiff to establish a persuasive argument since it is not all that unprecedented for NFL teams to associate themselves with a city in which they are not actually geographically located. In fact, the plaintiff conceded such fact, pointing out in his own complaint that the Dallas Cowboys’ home is located in Arlington, Texas, the Washington Football Team play its games in Landover, Maryland, and the San Francisco 49ers’ home field is in Santa Clara, California.[10] In addition to the teams cited by the plaintiff, the Buffalo Bills play in Orchard Park, New York, the home for the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers is located in Inglewood, California, and the Las Vegas Raiders call Paradise, Nevada home.

Although this phenomenon of ‘non-namesake city’ alliance for NFL franchises may be frustrating, expensive, and an annoyance for ‘hometown’ fans, the fact remains that a sports team, just like any other company or business, has the right to call themselves whatever name it wants so long as they are not violating trademark laws. This, together with the fact that the Giants and Jets have been playing football in the East Rutherford since 1976 and 1984 respectively, leaves little room for a federal court to find that the plaintiff in this instance has suffered concrete and specific damages that would rise to a level high enough to survive a motion to dismiss.

[1] Case No.: 1:22-cv-00031-AJN, filed on January 3, 2022.

[2] Case No.: 1:22-cv-31 Plaintiff Complaint – Prayer for Relief on page 19.

[3] Id.

[4] Lujan v. Defs. Of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992).

[5] TransUnion v. Ramirez, 141 S. Ct. 2190 (2021).

[6] Id.

[7] Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 578 U. S. 330, 340–341 (2016).

[8] Case No.: 1:22-cv-31 Plaintiff Complaint Paragraph 40 and 44.

[9] Case No.: 1:22-cv-31 Plaintiff Complaint Paragraph 47.

[10] Case No.: 1:22-cv-31 Plaintiff Complaint Paragraphs 26 and 27.

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