Cleveland Browns’ Fan Suing Over PSL Agreement

Ken Lanci, a Cleveland Browns season ticket holder, filed a lawsuit against the Browns and the National Football League claiming the lockout violated his contract to buy tickets through his Personal Seat License (PSL).

The lawsuit seeks damages from the Browns for breach of contract and bad faith and from the NFL for contract interference.  Mr. Lanci claims the lockout denies him the right under his personal seat licenses to attend Browns’ home games and adversely affects the value of the seat-license agreement.  Additionally, he claims the NFL has “conspired with the Browns and one another to lock out the players, without justification, resulting in the Browns’ breach of the PSL agreement.”

After reviewing portions of Mr. Lanci’s PSL agreement, it seems unlikely that he will prevail.  First, his claims are premature – no violation of the agreement can occur until a game is missed.  Therefore, Mr. Lanci should of sought a declaratory judgment regarding the legality of the lockout, together with a preliminary injunction aimed at blocking the lockout while the litigation proceeds and a permanent injunction preventing a lockout.

Furthermore, after the first missed game, it will be difficult for Mr. Lanci to prove that he was “irreparably harmed”, a necessary element to obtain a preliminary injunction.  The Browns simply must refute the “irreparable harm” element by refunding the price of the tickets and compensating Mr. Lanci for a corresponding percentage of the three-year PSL.

There is also language in the seat license agreement that should control this dispute.  Paragraph 10 of the Club Seat License Agreement: Terms and Conditions – Strikes, Damages and Destruction, Etc. states as follows:

in the event of “any strike or other labor disturbance which results on the  cancellation of any Browns Games at the Stadium,” the PSL holder will receive credit for such games against his or her next purchase of the seat license.

A court would most likely deem that this provision represents a fair and appropriate handling of lost games.

Case precedent further weakens Mr. Lanci’s case.  In Estate of Harold Oshinsky v.New York Football Giants, Inc., 2011 WL 383880, February 02, 2011, the court granted the Giant’s Motion for Summary Judgment after finding that a ticket is a revocable license and admission may be refused at the sole discretion of the team.  The court stated, “season-tickets, as renewal rights, are a limited privilege, subject to revocation.”

The court continued finding that no implied contract existed since on the backside of each annual invoice was a clause, which expressly curtailed renewal rights.  The clause read as follows: “[r]enewal privilege is extended at the option of the [Team], and is subject to revocation at any time.”

The court made an additional point about ticket prices that is worth stating. “A license fee is just an add-on to the price, albeit a substantial add-on in this case.” However, the “price is set by the purveyor of the entertainment and is controlled by market forces, not the courts. Here, the Giants as purveyors of the season tickets raised the cost of tickets every year without substantial objection. It is their responsibility to oversee ticket prices and PSL contracts, not the courts, absent a breach of an agreement.”

Therefore, since Mr. Lanci may not have sought he proper relief from court and that case law is against him, it will be difficult for Mr. Lanci to succeed on his lawsuit against the Cleveland Browns and the National Football League.

Former NFL Players Suing the NFL

Former National Football League players, Carl Eller, Priest Holmes, Obafemi Ayanbadejo and Ryan Collins filed a complaint in federal court suing the National Football League seeking to lift the current lockout to ensure their pensions and health benefits remain funded.  Presently, the retired players receive retirement, disability and death benefits, subsidized by the 32 teams.  The retired players content, according to the lawsuit Eller v NFL, that these benefits will end if the collective bargaining agreement is not renewed by March 11, 2012.

It is also the retired players position that their suit should be combined with the antitrust suit filed against the NFL by Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

The retired players, through counsel, stated, “We hope that we can be a part of that hearing. For the sake of judicial economy, it would help to streamline things to make sure you get all parties involved at the same table at the same hearing at the same time.”

The former players’ suit also covers draft prospects that are not represented by the NFL Players Association. These plaintiffs seek to avoid one of the league’s chief counterarguments against the Brady lawsuit:  the union illegally decertified.

“The owners say the union has unlawfully decertified and the union should be ordered to reconstitute and forced to sit at the bargaining table,” lead attorney for the retired players stated. “If you look at the last CBA, it represents the rookies that have been drafted and the rookies who have begun negotiating with teams.”

Therefore, college players waiting to be drafted are not represented by the union and cannot be faulted for its decertification, but are being affected by the lockout.

“These players have an antitrust claim,” counsel said. “The owners have shut down their potential employees through a concerted boycott. The suit is going to avoid the main thrust of the owners’ defense and their argument that the matter should be settled by the National Labor Relations Board, not the courts.”