Thursday, February 24, 2005
Order Granting New Trial to Raiders in Suit Against NFL Reversed, C.A. Says Judge’s Explanation Inadequate
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday threw out a Los Angeles Superior Court judge’s ruling granting the Oakland Raiders a new trial in the team’s $1.2 billion conspiracy lawsuit against the National Football League.
The Div. Two panel reinstated a 2001 verdict by a jury that concluded the league did not interfere with the team’s negotiations to build a stadium at Hollywood Park in the mid-1990s, and that the Raiders did not own the right to put an NFL team in Los Angeles and thus were not entitled to compensation from the league for freeing up those rights by moving to Oakland.
Judge Richard Hubbell, who has since retired, granted the Raiders a new trial on the ground of juror misconduct. Such rulings are usually reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard, but Justice Kathryn Doi Todd said the decision was subject to de novo examination in this case because Hubbell did not adequately state his reasons.
The trial judge’s statement that “the objectively ascertainable acts of Juror misconduct were prejudicial to the Oakland Raiders’ right to a fair trial,” Doi Todd wrote, did not comply with Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 657’s requirement that the court “specify the ground or grounds upon which it is granted and the court’s reason or reasons for granting the new trial upon each ground stated.”
The Raiders moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995—13 years after the team moved south.
After that move, the Raiders sued the NFL and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, claiming, among other things, that the league interfered with their plans to move from the Los Angeles Coliseum to a new stadium by insisting that the new facility also host a second NFL team.
The Raiders sued on theories of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, civil conspiracy, bad faith, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference with business relations. All of the team’s claims, however, were rejected either by the judge—who granted the league summary adjudication on several causes of action—or by the jury after a six-week trial and 15 days of deliberations.
Following the jury verdict, Hubbell tried the parties’ respective claims for declaratory relief, holding that the league was entitled to a share of certain stadium revenues.
But the judge later ordered a new trial on the five causes of action that went to the jury, finding in favor of the Raiders on their claim that two jurors were biased against the team and hid their feelings during jury questioning.
The team also claimed that one juror had trouble understanding English and could not adequately participate in deliberations.
The Raiders claimed one juror was biased because he said to fellow jurors during deliberations that he hated the team and its owner, Al Davis, and would never find in their favor in the case.
The juror responded in a declaration that he made the statement as a joke because he once lost a small bet on the team in Las Vegas.
In an unpublished portion of her opinion, Doi Todd said the juror’s declaration, supported by the declarations of several other jurors who said they did not hear the statement or took it as a joke and that the embattled juror did not express bias, adequately refuted the claim of bias, as to which the Raiders had the burden of proof.
In another unpublished portion of her opinion, the justice said Hubbell was correct in granting summary adjudication of the Raiders’ breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim against Tagliabue and NFL President Neil Austrian. The league’s officers have a fiduciary duty to the membership as a whole, not to individual teams, Doi Todd explained.
The league’s reaction to the ruling was predictable.
“We are pleased by the court’s unanimous decision and hope that it brings this long-running litigation to a close,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
Larry Feldman, an attorney for the Raiders, said the team would appeal.
“We are very disappointed and firmly believe that the trial court was correct when it granted the Raiders a new trial and are optimistic that the California Supreme Court will affirm the trial court’s decision,” Feldman said.
Feldman represented the Raiders on appeal along with Robert M. Turner of Feldman’s firm, Kaye Scholer; John J. Quinn and Laurence J. Hutt of Arnold & Porter, and the Raiders’ in-house attorney, Jeffrey E. Birren.
The NFL was represented by Covington & Burling’s Gregg H. Levy; Allen J. Ruby of Ruby & Schofield, and Douglas B. Adler of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
The case is Oakland Raiders v. National Football League, 05 S.O.S. 1027.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company