Closing a chapter on a long-running dispute between the Chicago Cubs' ownership and businesses overlooking Wrigley Field, an Illinois federal court on Wednesday dismissed a suit alleging that the Cubs engaged in anti-competitive behavior and breached a contract with a signage project.
Judge Virginia M. Kendall dismissed the claims in the nine-count complaint with prejudice after finding that the Cubs had not broken a license agreement with the rooftops and were exempt from from antitrust laws. The rooftop owners had argued that the team's plans to build a video board and other signs in Wrigley Field as part of a stadium revamp wrongfully amounted to giving the Cubs a monopoly and violated the Sherman Act
But in addition to citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent that exempts Major League Baseball from antitrust claims, the judge further found that there was no market to prove attempted monopolization.
“The rooftops argue that two possible relevant markets exist: a 'Live Cubs Game Product' market and a 'Live Rooftop Games Product' market. Neither is a plausible relevant market however because each depends upon the Cubs’ presentation of live professional baseball, and a single brand product like producing live-action Cubs games cannot be a relevant market,” Kendall said in the opinion.
Also tossed out were claims that the rooftop owners had been harmed or defamed by public remarks made by Cubs owner Thomas Ricketts about the relationship with the rooftop businesses, as well as claims that the team ownership had violated a 20-year license agreement 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. The court found a provision in the deal allowed the Cubs to undertake an expansion that resulted in unobstructed views.
“We are very pleased with the court's decisive ruling ... Judge Kendall's opinion confirms the bleacher expansion does not violate our rooftop agreements, as we have maintained from the outset. We also appreciate that with this chapter closed, everyone's focus can continue to be on the field, where it belongs,” Crane Kenney, president of business operations for the Cubs, said in a statement emailed to Law360.
The Cubs were represented by a Kirkland & Ellis LLP team including partners Andrew A. Kassof and Daniel E. Laytin, along with associate Diana M. Watral.
“It was a true team effort at Kirkland. The expertise of Dan Laytin, one of the smartest antitrust lawyers in the country, led the response to the rooftops’ antitrust allegations. And Diana Watral, a young star at the firm, led the way on the briefing," Kassof told Law360.
The decision follows an April decision that said the Cubs could continue the ongoing construction of a video board and other signs at Wrigley Field. In February, the rooftop owners also lost a temporary restraining order bid.
Led by plaintiff Right Field Rooftops LLC, the rooftop owners lodged the suit in January. The team won approval for the renovations last summer and the businesses argued the outfield sign construction was being done in such a way that blocked their rooftop sightlines but left rooftops purchased by the Cubs unobstructed, according to the complaint.
Counsel for the plaintiffs could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday.
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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