St. Louis lost the Rams three years ago, but now the city just keeps winning. In the latest victory in litigation against the team and the National Football League, the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that four phone companies must turn over phone records from team owners and others. It’s the latest instance of Rams owner Stan Kroenke and his co-defendants trying to hide the ball, and the courts telling them they can’t. These are the right decisions.
The Rams’ classless desertion of St. Louis in 2016 prompted a flurry of lawsuits, including the one pending by St. Louis city and county and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority.
Plaintiffs claim the pullout constituted breach of contract and fraud, because local entities spent more than $16 million trying to keep the team here as Kroenke and the NFL allegedly colluded to mislead the city about their commitment to stay put.
The team previously tried to force the case out of the public eye of the courtroom and into arbitration. It’s a common — and commonly abused — strategy that big businesses like to use to get a better deal than they would in open court, without any of that embarrassing public exposure.
Incredibly, the team argued that a clause it added to its contract with the city, long after it was signed, obligated the city to agree to arbitration. The Missouri Supreme Court ultimately and correctly slapped down the arbitration attempt, keeping the case in open court.
The plaintiffs now seek years’ worth of NFL-related phone records. A core allegation in the lawsuit is that Kroenke and the league induced the city to spend those millions for plans for a new stadium, without telling them that plans to leave the city were already in play. The phone records presumably could show patterns of conversations between NFL owners and others about the planned move even as the city was struggling to keep the team in town.
The defendants tried to argue that the phone records request could constitute an invasion of privacy because it would reveal phone calls unrelated to the case at hand — an argument that would effectively prevent any phone-record disclosure in any litigation, ever. The high court rightly shrugged off this bit of sophistry and, without comment, ordered the records to be delivered.
Some critics persist in claiming St. Louis’ suit is just a bad case of sour grapes. That ignores the fact that, in addition to treating the city’s loyal fans with an appalling lack of respect, Kroenke cost local entities millions they didn’t have to spend with his bad-faith maneuvering. With each incremental victory in court, justice inches a little closer to the goal line.