Judge Partially Dismisses Case Against Mass United Rush FC Coach, United Premier Soccer League and United States Adult Soccer Association

May 17, 2024

By Ryan M. Robbins, MS & Michael S. Carroll, PhD

Background and Lawsuit

On December 14, 2019, Joseph Paul Seiberlich was the paid referee for a soccer match being played between Mass United Rush FC and World Class Premier, who are both members of the United Premier Soccer League (“UPSL”), which is governed by the United States Adult Soccer Association (“USASA”). During the match, played in Silver Spring, Maryland, Cesar Deossa, an assistant coach for Mass United FC, entered the field and violently stuck Seiberlich, resulting in injuries. Prior to the incident at the match in Maryland, there was a previous incident between the parties in Boston, Massachusetts in which Deossa yelled at Seiberlich and physically chest-bumped the referee. Based on the incident, Deossa pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in a Maryland Court. The original civil action was filed in Circuit Court in Montgomery County, Maryland on December 12, 2022. Defendants subsequently removed the case from the original court to the District Court of Maryland due to diversity jurisdiction, and then on October 12, 2023 Sieberlich filed an amended complaint containing 18 counts, including claims against UPSL and USASA for negligence (Counts 4 and 10), respondeat superior/vicarious liability (Counts 5 and 11) and negligent supervision (Counts 6 and 12).

At the time of the Maryland incident, Jim Antonakas was the owner of Mass United FC, and Stefano Franciosa was the team’s head coach. Both Antonakas and Franciosa were named in the civil lawsuit, due to their relationship with Deossa. The UPSL is the league that both teams play within, and the USASA is the governing body that regulates adult soccer organizations. Once again, both organizations are also included in the civil lawsuit.

In the complaint, Seiberlich asserts that Deossa had a history of violent behavior and should have been disciplined by the team and league. He further alleges that the UPSL and USASA are negligent because they had a duty to care for referees, as they are the hiring party. They also have a duty to monitor team coaches, and that if they had proper procedures in place to report violations, they should have known about the Massachusetts incident prior to the Maryland incident. Therefore, they owed Seiberlich a duty of care as paid personnel to officiate matches governed by the league and association.

UPSL and USASA contend in their motion to dismiss that the negligence claims fail because they to not owe Sieberlich a duty of care. Additionally, they claim that Defendant Deossa is not employed by the league, which is necessary to state a claim for negligent supervision. Finally, the negligent supervision and vicarious liability claims are not independent from the general negligence claims, and thus fail for the same reason, a lack of duty of care. 

Opposing the motion, Seiberlich argued that his negligence claims are valid because the amended complaint alleges that defendants did, in fact, owe him a duty of care.

In Counts 4 and 10, the plaintiff alleges claims of negligence because the league defendants hired him as a referee for the match and they had a special duty for protection. The league’s counter-argument is that they had no legal duty of care because Deossa’s actions were not foreseeable, and they had no special relationship to the plaintiff. The court ruled that, due to Deossa’s prior misconduct, the attack on Seiberlich could reasonably be foreseeable to league defendants. They also ruled in favor of the plaintiff in that, since the league defendants hired Sieberlch as a referee, this kind of contractual relationship under Maryland law requires that they provide a safe place to work. Thus, the court denied the motion to dismiss the negligence claims in Counts 4 and 10. Conversely, the court found against the plaintiff in relation to the claims of negligent supervision, and therefore granted defendants’ motion to dismiss with regard to Counts 6 and 12. Although the court also granted defendants’ motion to dismiss Counts 5 and 11, it will allow the plaintiff to argue theories of respondent superior and vicarious liability as part of the negligence claims.

Finally, Seiberlich argued that he should have leave to amend the complaint in the event that the court deemed the amended complaint insufficient, which defendants argued against. The court ruled against the plaintiff, stating that the negligent supervision claims were fundamentally flawed, and the respondeat superior/vicarious liability claims were unnecessary and duplicative. As such, the leave to amend request was denied.


The league defendants’ motion to dismiss was granted in part and denied in part. The motion to dismiss was granted with respect to the negligent supervision and respondent superior/vicarious liability in Counts 5, 6, 11 and 12. The court did not grant Seiberlich the leave to amend request.


Seilberlich v. Deossa, Civil Action TDC-23-0560 (D. Md. Jan. 30, 2024).

Ryan M. Robbins is a doctoral student in the Sport Management Program at Troy University. He is also the Vice President of Corporate Partnerships at the Hall of Fame Village and an Adjunct Professor at Baldwin Wallace University. He lives in Avon Lake, OH.

Michael S. Carroll is a Full Professor of Sport Management at Troy University specializing in research related to sport law and risk management in sport and recreation. He also serves as Online Program Coordinator for Troy University and works closely with students in the TROY doctoral program.

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