An Illinois federal judge on Thursday refused to halt construction of a video board and other large signs at Wrigley Field, dealing an early-inning blow to a pair of rooftop businesses across from the historic ballpark who accuse the Chicago Cubs of blocking their views in violation of a long-term contract and antitrust laws.
Ruling from the bench, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall denied a bid by the rooftop clubs for a temporary restraining order against the signage project, saying they haven’t backed up their claim that allowing construction to continue will destroy their businesses before the parties can meet for a full hearing on the matter next month.
The plaintiffs, who operate Skybox on Sheffield and Lakeview Baseball Club, “have not satisfied the burden of this immediate harm,” Judge Kendall said.
The judge added that any lost revenue suffered by the plaintiffs — presumably from fans wary of buying tickets with obstructed views — is “easily ascertainable” and could be remedied through potential damages against the team if the plaintiffs prevail.
The rooftop clubs own or lease property along the east side of the stadium and offer customers food, drinks and views of Wrigley Field events from just beyond right field. They are trying to stop the Cubs from continuing to install a 2,200-square-foot video board and other signs that will block their businesses' views, part of a broader $300 million renovation of the ballpark.
The rooftop clubs sued the team and its owners, the Ricketts family, last month, alleging the signs breach a 20-year contract guaranteeing the businesses unobstructed views into Wrigley Field through 2023 in return for handing over a 17 percent cut of their revenues to the Cubs' ownership.
The suit also accuses the Cubs of trying to create a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Act by strategically placing the signs to obstruct the views of rooftop clubs who refused to sell their businesses to the team, along with Lanham Act claims for allegedly making deceptive public statements insinuating that the rooftop owners are stealing the Cubs' property by allowing patrons to watch their games.
At Thursday’s hearing, Judge Kendall said the Cubs faced more harm if she were to grant the restraining order than the rooftop clubs will without it, noting that the team is trying to get the stadium ready for fans on opening day, April 5.
The judge also cast doubt on the plaintiffs’ antitrust claims, at least in this early stage of the case, saying they haven’t shown anything “predatory or unjustifiable” about the team’s conduct.
The Cubs aren’t creating a “monopoly over anything but the distribution of their own product,” she said.
The fight, however, will continue for at least another month. Judge Kendall, stressing that she wanted to resolve the dispute before the Cubs take the field on April 5, set a preliminary injunction hearing for March 23, where the rooftop businesses will again push to put the project on hold.
Thomas Lombardo of Di Monte & Lizak LLC, who represents the plaintiffs, declined to comment on the ruling after the hearing.
A spokesman for the Cubs and the Ricketts family, Dennis Culloton, told reporters that construction of the signs is “moving apace,” even with subzero temperatures descending on Chicago this week.
“We’re obviously very pleased with the ruling and very grateful that the judge is showing such concern for opening day,” he said.
The plaintiffs are represented by Thomas M. Lombardo and Abraham E. Brustein of Di Monte & Lizak LLC.
The Chicago Cubs are represented by Andrew Kassof, Daniel E. Laytin and Diana M. Watral of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
The case is Right Field Rooftops LLC et al. v. Chicago Baseball Holdings LLC, case number 1:15-cv-00551, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
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