Is It Confusing that the N.Y. Jets and Giants Play in New Jersey? A Federal Magistrate Weighs In

Jan 27, 2023

By Gary Chester, Senior Writer

When the New York Giants crossed the Hudson River to play in the New Jersey Meadowlands in 1976 and the New York Jets followed eight years later, neither team opted to place “New Jersey” in its official name. This created conflicting feelings among New Jerseyans who were delighted to host two NFL teams, but regarded their continuing identification with New York as “offsides.”

Fans on the New Jersey side of the Hudson did not file a legal action to force a name change; they bought season tickets instead.

Decades later, an effort to compel the Jets and Giants to change their names came from an unlikely source: New York football fans. In January 2022, some New Yorkers filed a class action lawsuit against both teams, the NFL, and the entity that owns and operates MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The complaint in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York demanded that the Jets and Giants remove all references to New York from their names, logos, and advertising, and pay billions in damages for consumer fraud.

In Suero v. NFL, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 228206 (December 16, 2022), the court considered the plaintiffs’ claims in a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The Facts

The plaintiffs are residents of New York City who alleged they were deceived into believing that the Jets and Giants played their home games in New York and/or were inconvenienced in traveling to New Jersey to attend a game.

The amended complaint set forth “Ten Lies,” including that the Jets and Giants are New York teams and that their home stadium, MetLife Stadium, sets the standard for venue excellence and is under 20 minutes from New York City. The tenth lie “is the MetLife logo, which consists of the words ‘MetLife Stadium’ beneath the New York Skyline,” which the plaintiffs alleged misrepresents that the stadium is located in New York City. The plaintiffs argue that but for the misrepresentation that MetLife Stadium is located in New York, the plaintiffs assert they would not have purchased tickets.

The Allegations

The amended complaint set forth four causes of action: (1) false advertising in violation of New York General Business Law (GBL) Section 350-a; (2) deceptive practices in violation of GBL Section 349; (3) common law fraudulent misrepresentation; and (4) negligence, premised on a violation of a New Jersey law prohibiting vendors from requiring credit-only payments for goods or services.  The plaintiffs sought $2 billion in compensatory and $4 billion in punitive damages, plus attorneys’ fees and costs.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses considered the parties’ arguments and presented a written recommendation to the presiding judge, Alvin Hellerstein.

The Arguments

The plaintiffs argued that while other NFL teams play outside the city for which they are named, the Jets and Giants are the only teams that play in an entirely different state. They cited various laws restricting product labels, including a Vermont statute regulating the use of “Vermont maple” and they likened the Jets and Giants to “corn syrup being falsely labeled Vermont Maple Syrup.”

As to the New Jersey no credit-only law, the plaintiffs called an audible and dismissed their own claim when they discovered there was an applicable statutory exemption.

The defendants countered that the plaintiffs did not respond in any meaningful way to their legal arguments.

The Decision

Turnovers will kill a team’s chances in the course of a big game, and so it seems the plaintiffs fumbled at least three times in their litigation. First, the court found that the amended complaint did not set forth the citizenship of any of the defendants. Since the plaintiffs did not show that the parties are domiciled in different states, the magistrate held that the court did not have subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Section 1332(a)(1). (The court noted that the Jets, the Giants, and the NFL are all domiciled in New York.)

Second, the defendants argued that the plaintiffs dropped the ball by failing to allege in the amended complaint that the NFL was responsible for promoting any of the so-called Ten Lies. The plaintiffs failed to address the issue in their opposing brief, thereby abandoning their claims against the NFL.

The third fumble noted by the magistrate was the plaintiffs’ failure to state a claim under the GBL. Section 349 prohibits advertising that is “misleading in any respect.” A complaint for false advertising or deceptive acts must allege that the challenged transaction was consumer-oriented, involved materially misleading practices, and caused injury.

While the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants’ use of New York in their names or in the MetLife stadium logo was confusing, they did not raise any facts tending to show that the conduct was likely to confuse reasonable consumers. It is insufficient to claim that a plaintiff was misled. A complaint must allege facts showing that “a significant portion of the general consuming public…acting reasonably in the circumstances” could be similarly misled. (This is often achieved in trademark cases through consumer surveys.)

To support its recommendation to dismiss the action, the magistrate noted that there is nothing remarkable about professional sports teams moving to the suburbs while retaining the name of the city where it formerly played. The court also noted that the MetLife Stadium website indicated that the facility is located in New Jersey.

Further, the amended complaint did not allege that the plaintiffs suffered any material harm from the alleged deception.

Finally, the court found that the plaintiffs’ reliance on National Football League Properties, Inc. v. New Jersey Giants, 637 F. Supp. 507 (D.N.J. 1986), was misplaced. There, the Giants brought a trademark claim against a company that called itself New Jersey Giants, Inc., and sold unlicensed apparel bearing the mark “New Jersey GIANTS” in direct competition with the team’s sales of licensed NFL merchandise bearing the New York Giants marks.

The New York Giants routed the New Jersey Giants when the court found that “NEW YORK GIANTS” and related marks were “valid,” “nationally recognized,” or “might conceivably be misunderstood by some few consumers.”

In contrast, the New York plaintiffs here suffered a shutout. Magistrate Moses did not find that any of the Ten Lies were likely to mislead reasonable consumers and she recommended a dismissal of all claims.

The Epilogue

The litigation was halted for a review from Judge Hellerstein, as the magistrate’s recommendation to grant the motion to dismiss did not constitute a binding decision. Finally, the plaintiffs punted before the court issued a final ruling when they agreed to a stipulation of dismissal of all claims with prejudice and without payment of any legal fees or court costs.

Articles in Current Issue