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Rams football games are long gone from St. Louis, but the legal ones go on

Rams football games are long gone from St. Louis, but the legal ones go on

From the Essential reading: St. Louis’ lawsuit against the Los Angeles Rams, NFL owners series

With the Rams firmly ensconced in Los Angeles, and suddenly touted as a Super Bowl contender, St. Louis begins its third season of life without the NFL.

The team may be gone, but the games continue here — the legal games, that is. When it comes to the courtroom, the Rams are gone but not forgotten. As the 2018 NFL season begins Thursday, no fewer than four lawsuits involving St. Louis and the Rams are pending.

• One lawsuit involves future ownership of the Rams’ former practice facility in Earth City, known for years as Rams Park.

• A second involves fans who bought tickets and team merchandise in the final years of the Rams’ time in St. Louis.

• A third is a class-action suit on behalf of thousands of PSL (personal seat license) holders from the team’s 21-season stay in St. Louis.

• The fourth, and biggest of the four, basically challenges the way the Rams, the NFL, and the 31 other NFL teams and owners went about the process of relocating the Rams from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

As the saying goes, the wheels of justice turn slowly, and when it comes to St. Louis and its messy divorce with the Rams, they are turning in different directions for each suit. To wit, one case is headed to arbitration, another is in settlement negotiations, a third appears headed to trial, and the fourth just recently settled a lengthy jurisdictional dispute.

Based on court documents and interviews with attorneys involved in each case, here’s a scorecard of where each one stands. And if you’re wondering who’s paying for all the St. Louis legal fees, in each instance their attorneys are paid only if they win the case:

Relocation suit

The Case • Filed 15 months after the January 12, 2016, relocation vote by NFL owners, this is the monster suit. The city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority are suing the Rams, the NFL and the 31 other NFL teams and their 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. A successful outcome for St. Louis won’t bring the Rams back, but it could cost the Rams, the NFL and NFL teams millions of dollars, maybe hundreds of millions.

Jurisdiction • St. Louis Circuit Court

Where Things Stand • After months of legal maneuvering, the meat of the case is nearly at hand. In terms of pretrial motions made by the Rams and the NFL, almost everything has gone St. Louis’ way so far:

• A motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the league’s relocation guidelines being unenforceable has been denied.

• A motion to dismiss most of the teams and team owners from the case for lack of jurisdiction has been denied.

• A motion to send the case to arbitration was denied. Most recently, on Aug. 21, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District denied an appeal on this motion. A final appeal is expected to be made to the Missouri Supreme Court, otherwise the Rams and the NFL are out of pre-trial appeals.

Outlook • If this were a football game, we would be late in the second quarter.

This one appears headed to trial; there has been no talk of a settlement. If it reaches trial, Rams owner Stan Kroenke, team executive Kevin Demoff, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, even owners such as Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys could be on the witness stand — and that would make for grand theater.

As far as the legal discovery, or information gathering process, there have been no depositions to this point but documents are being exchanged.

PSL suit

The Case • Within weeks of the January 2016 relocation vote, three separate lawsuits were filed on behalf of PSL holders against the Rams. The PSLs were a one-time fee giving purchasers the right to buy season tickets. The three suits were subsequently combined into one: McAllister v. St. Louis Rams.

The original PSLs were good for 30 seasons, coinciding with the 30-year length of the stadium lease at what was once called the Edward Jones Dome. As such, they would be good through the 2024 season, but then the Rams moved to LA after 21 seasons in St. Louis.

The suit seeks a refund for the unused nine years worth of the seat license fee plus damages, and in some cases the chance to buy Rams season tickets in Los Angeles. Citing a Forbes article, the suit said the average price of the original 46,000 licenses was $2,085 per ticket for a total of about $96 million.

Jurisdiction • U.S. District Court in St. Louis

Where Things Stand • More than 2½ years of maneuvering and motions have resulted in some pretrial victories for the Rams and some for the PSL holders. One of the victories for the PSL holders was to have the case treated as a class-action suit, involving more than 20,000 ticket accounts (rather than having each account litigated individually).

Demoff has made a deposition. But a request by PSL holders to have Kroenke deposed was denied on the basis that Kroenke had no “unique knowledge” of how the PSL policy worked.

As recently as August, motions were made by the Rams with the consent of all parties to hold the case in abeyance while the sides negotiated a settlement.

Outlook • According to court documents, settlement negotiations have been going on for weeks, encompassing the months of July and August. It looks as if this case could end in a settlement, which could bring PSL holders several million dollars in total. If negotiations are successful, a settlement could be reached sometime this year.

Two factors may have steered the Rams toward settlement negotiations: the ruling for class-action status and the nearly $12.5 million award in June to former NFL running back Reggie Bush in St. Louis Circuit Court.

Bush suffered a knee injury at the dome in a 2015 game as a member of the San Francisco 49ers when he slipped on the exposed concrete surface at the edge of the floor after running out of bounds.

The Rams were found 100 percent liable for the injury. The size of the monetary award surprised some NFL observers because Bush was near the end of his career at the time of the injury and hadn’t done much as a player since 2013.

Ticket/merchandise suit

The Case • Filed within days of the NFL relocation vote, this was the first suit stemming from the Rams’ return to Los Angeles. It claims the Rams violated Missouri’s Merchandise Practices Act by misleading consumers who bought tickets and team merchandise on the premise that the Rams’ stated goal was to keep the team in St. Louis. Statements by Kroenke and Demoff after the move indicated otherwise — that they had been planning the move for several years before the relocation vote.

Jurisdiction • St. Louis Circuit Court

Where Things Stand • Jurisdictional battles kept this case in a holding pattern for two years. Originally filed in circuit court, the Rams were successful in having the venue moved to federal court, where for a while it was consolidated with the PSL case, McAllister v. St. Louis Rams. Attorneys for the plaintiffs (Rams fans) were successful in moving the case back to state court in May.

Outlook • Don’t hold your breath waiting for a result. It remains to be seen if state court will be friendlier to Rams fans, who are seeking class-action status and restitution for money spent on tickets and merchandise. Because of the jurisdictional squabble, this case basically is starting from scratch and just beginning the discovery process.

Rams Park suit

The Case • A little-known clause in the Rams’ stadium lease in St. Louis gave the team the option to purchase the Earth City practice facility for $1 in 2024 — like the PSL suit coinciding with the expiration date of the original 30-year stadium lease. During the team’s time in St. Louis, it leased the 27-acre facility from the Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority for $25,000 a year. The regional sports authority filed a suit in March 2016 — 2½ months after the NFL relocation vote — seeking to block the team from being able to buy Rams Park for $1 in 2024. The value of the complex, now leased by the Lou Fusz Athletic youth sports organization, is $19 million.

Jurisdiction • St. Louis County Circuit Court

Where Things Stand • The regional sports complex authority claims the option doesn’t survive the expiration of the lease. But so far, this case has gone the Rams’ way. A circuit judge dismissed the sports authority suit and ordered arbitration. On Nov. 21, 2017, the Missouri Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the sports authority, sending the case to arbitration.

Outlook • Three arbitrators from the American Arbitration Association will rule after a hearing that can involve witnesses and the introduction of evidence. As part of the language of the lease, the arbitrators cannot be from St. Louis, thus there will be no home-court advantage for the sports authority in this case.

The arbitration hearing is not expected to take place until 2019. There has been no talk of a settlement.

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Now St. Louis’ public stadium authority is on the hook for more than $295,000 in legal fees to attorneys at Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch, who represented the authority in the fight over the practice fields.

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