ST. LOUIS — A lawsuit pitting St. Louisans against Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the National Football League over the team’s 2016 exodus will play out in a St. Louis courtroom instead of in secret, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.
The high court denied Kroenke’s motion to move the suit into arbitration, meaning the fight over the Rams’ move to Los Angeles will stay in St. Louis Circuit Court.
“It’s a major deal,” said Jim Shrewsbury, chairman of the public authority that owns the domed downtown football stadium. “It guarantees us our day in court.”
A Rams spokesman could not be reached for comment Tuesday. It was not immediately clear whether Kroenke could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fans and government bodies filed four separate suits against the Rams after the team left more than three years ago: Fans who bought tickets and team merchandise sued to get some of their money back. Season ticket holders sued over the price of personal seat licenses, which gave fans the right to buy tickets. The dome authority, officially called the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, sued over ownership of the Rams’ former practice facility in Earth City.
But the biggest suit was filed by the dome authority, St. Louis and St. Louis County. About 15 months after the Rams left, the three government bodies sued the Rams, the NFL and the 31 other NFL teams and owners.
The case alleges breach of contract, fraud, illegal enrichment and interference in business by the Rams and the NFL, causing significant public financial loss.
It is assigned to St. Louis Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh. A resolution to the suit won’t bring the Rams back from California, but it could cost the Rams, the NFL and its teams millions of dollars.
Moreover, if the suit goes to trial in St. Louis, Kroenke, team executive Kevin Demoff and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell might have to take the witness stand.
Tuesday’s high court decision mirrors a Missouri appeals court decision in April denying Kroenke’s and the NFL’s attempt to force the same lawsuit into arbitration over the team’s 2016 relocation.
That three-judge panel found that the Rams couldn’t resolve the lawsuit in arbitration based on the language of the team’s 1995 lease agreement that preceded rules governing arbitration.
Arbitration is bad for the local fight against the Rams, Shrewsbury said. The NFL hires a lot of arbiters. And those who hire arbiters more often, win more often in arbitration, he said.
The Rams have already won one of the suits after it moved to arbitration: In April, a panel ruled that an option in the Rams training camp lease allows the team to buy its 27-acre practice facility in Earth City, worth at least $12.7 million, for just $1.
In January, the Rams agreed to a $24 million settlement with thousands of personal seat license holders — but then sought to recover half that cost from the public by forcing the suit into arbitration.
But most of the pretrial rulings in the relocation suit have gone the public’s way, including two motions to dismiss and now, two attempts to send it to arbitration.
It will likely be months before the suit is resolved.
“These things take a long, long time,” Shrewsbury said. “This is not going to be settled next week.”