By Phillip H. Movaghar & Jeff Birren, Senior Writer
These pages previously addressed federal court litigation brought by Saints fans against the NFL as a result of a disputed non-call by NFL game officials during the 2019 NFC Championship Game (Sports Litigation Alert, Movaghar and Birren, “Federal Court Sends Two Saints Fans Marching Home in Defeat” Vol. 16, Issue 15, 8-16-19). At the time, a similar case in Louisiana State Court was proceeding. That case has now also failed. The cases are based on identical facts so the reader is referred to the prior article.
The plaintiffs alleged the NFL and the game officials engaged in a conspiracy and committed fraud and deceptive trade practices against Plaintiffs as season ticket holders and attendees of the 2019 NFC Championship Game, thus entitling them to damages. The NFL responded by filing a preemptory exception, raising the objection of no right of action, arguing that Plaintiffs were not within the class of people with enforceable rights regarding the administration of the rules in a particular game.
The district court denied the NFL’s exception. The NFL unsuccessfully requested review in the court of appeal. The NFL then sought relief in the Louisiana Supreme Court. That court accepted review.
The Court began by explaining that, pursuant to Badeaux v. Southwest Computer Bureau, Inc., 2005-0612 (La.3/17/06), 929 So.2d 1211, 1217, “the reviewing court should focus on whether the particular plaintiff has a right to bring the suit and is a member of the class of persons that has a legal interest in the subject matter of the litigation. . . Thus, the narrow issue presented in the instant case is whether Plaintiffs belong to the class of persons who have a cause of action to recover damages for alleged fraud and deceptive trade practices committed by the NFL and its officials during the game” (Antonio Le Mon et al v. NFL et al, 2019CC-1264, (“Le Mon”)(La. 9/6/19, at 2).
The court cited Vogel v. Saenger Theatres, 207 La. 835, 22 So.2d 189 (1945) which found that under Louisiana law, a ticket of admission to a theater or place of public amusement confers on a purchaser a mere license to witness the performance. Thus a ticket holder whose right of admission is revoked may bring an action for breach of contract. See also Mancina v. Goodell, 2013 WL 393041 (E.D. La. 1/30/13) (Louisiana jurisprudence provides that revocation of a license or breach of contract can result in actual damages, usually the amounts paid for the ticket, necessary expenses incurred in attending the performance, and mental suffering).
Applying Vogel and Mancina, the Court found that purchasing a ticket merely granted a right of entry and a seat at the game, and Plaintiffs did not allege that such rights were revoked or denied in any way. Nevertheless, Plaintiffs asserted the facts of the instant case were distinguishable from earlier cases because they alleged fraud, intentional torts, and gross negligent acts. Moreover, Plaintiffs contended that Vogel left open the possibility that a spectator could recover additional damages.
The Court disagreed. “[W]hile Vogel recognized that Louisiana law may allow greater damages than those available at common law, such damages are predicated ‘upon the proprietor’s breach of contract without just cause . . .’ [Here] there is no allegation of any breach of the contract allowing plaintiffs to attend the game” (Id.at 3).
Moreover, public policy considerations favor restricting the rights of spectators to bring actions based on the conduct of professional sporting leagues officials. Quoting Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 237 (3dCir. 2010) the court explained “it is not the role of judges and juries to be second guessing the decision taken by a professional sports league purportedly enforcing its own rules.“ Allowing such suits would “further burden already limited judicial recourses and force professional sports organizations and related individuals to expend money, time, and resources to defend against such litigation” (Id.).
The Louisiana Supreme Court determined the district court erred in its finding that Plaintiffs could maintain this suit, and reversed the judgment. La. Code Civ. P. art. 934 permits amendment, but “amendment is not permitted when it would constitute a vain and useless act” (Id. at 4). Here, there is no right to recover damages for fraud and deceptive practices allegedly committed by the NFL and its officials during the 2019 NFC Championship Game. Furthermore, Plaintiffs did not plead any facts suggesting “an amended petition would cure or remove the grounds or sustaining the NFL’s exception. Therefore, amendment would be a vain and useless act” (Id.). It thus dismissed the case with prejudice. However painful, the non-call cannot be rectified in court.
Mr. Movaghar received his B.A. from UCLA and is a full time 3L student at Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles and is a member of the Biederman Institute’s Entertainment & the Arts Legal Clinic.
Birren is the former general counsel of the Oakland Raiders and is an adjunct professor of law at Southwestern.