Miami Team Of Lawyers In Thick Of Preemption Battle Over A-RodNoreen Marcus
YURI SUCART AND JOSE GUSTAVO GOMEZ, PETITIONERS, V. OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER, ET AL., RESPONDENTS
Case No.: 13-1928, 13-2242 & 13-2251
Date: Dec. 18, 2013
Case type: Tort, pre-emption, extraordinary writ
Court: Third District Court of Appeal
Author of opinion: Judge Thomas Logue
Lawyers for petitioners: Jeffrey R. Sonn, Sonn & Erez, Miami; John Lukacs, Hinshaw & Culbertson, Coral Gables
Lawyers for respondents: Howard L. Ganz, Neil H. Abramson, Adam M. Lupion, Allan H. Weitzman and Jurate Schwartz, Proskauer Rose, New York; Matthew I. Menchel, Andrew C. Lourie, John D. Couriel and Adriana Riviere-Badell, Kobre & Kim, Miami
Panel: Logue and Judges Linda Ann Wells and Kevin Emas
Originating court: Miami-Dade Circuit Court
Who's on first, Alex Rodriguez or Major League Baseball?
It's hard to tell after a Florida appellate court ruling and some motion practice in New York.
Teams of lawyers for both sides are trying to use the preemption doctrine—Team A-Rod to get rid of the Florida state court tort suit and Team MLB to dispense with similar litigation in New York federal court.
Preemption is the concept that when federal law controls a dispute, since that law must be uniform nationwide, federal court is the one and only ballpark for the game.
On Dec. 18, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled two men close to Rodriguez, the Yankees' dimmed star, must submit to depositions in a lawsuit Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court early this year.
The suit claims Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, tortiously interfered with agreements between MLB and the Major League Players Association by providing banned performance-enhancing drugs to Rodriguez and other players. Fourteen of them have been suspended in the scandal.
Rodriguez has been deploying a lot of legal muscle in his combative response.
He's awaiting an arbitrator's ruling on his appeal of a 211-game suspension for using steroids. In the New York case where preemption is on deck, Rodriguez is suing the league and Selig, claiming they tortiously interfered with his current and future contracts.
And then there's Rodriguez's medical malpractice suit in Bronx Supreme Court alleging Yankees team Dr. Chris Ahmad misdiagnosed his hip injury in the 2012 playoffs. The player's legal team has filed a motion to keep that lawsuit where it's at, while the defendants want it moved to Manhattan.
The two men who tried unsuccessfully to challenge Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Dresnick's subpoena call are nonparties Yuri Sucart, who is Rodriguez's cousin and former assistant, and Rodriguez's friend Jose Gustavo Gomez.
Their lawyers assert the Miami-Dade court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit and therefore to summon Sucart and Gomez.
They argue that to resolve the tortious interference claims, the trial court must interpret collective bargaining agreements between the baseball commissioner and the players association. And a state court isn't authorized to do that because the claims are preempted by Section 301 of the federal Labor Management Relations Act.
Dresnick denied their motions for protective orders to quash the subpoenas. Then Sucart and Gomez went to the Third District seeking writs of certiorari to prevent the depositions.
There they faced a high hurdle to obtain the extraordinary writ that can overturn a nonfinal order. The Third District panel decided unanimously they had not cleared that hurdle by showing "a departure from the essential requirements of law" and denied the petitions.
"The instant lawsuit is not between parties to the collective bargaining agreement over the collective bargaining agreement. Instead, it is a lawsuit between one party to the … agreement and various third parties over a tort," Judge Thomas Logue wrote for the panel, joined by Judges Kevin Emas and Linda Ann Wells.
Since players have already conceded using performance-enhancing drugs violates the agreement, and Sucart and Gomez didn't cite any specific part that must be construed, Logue concluded: "It would appear that little or no interpretation of the agreement would be necessary to resolve the commissioner's claims here, and certainly not to the degree that the claims would be preempted by Section 301."
Back In New York
The next day, Dec. 19, lawyers for Rodriguez and MLB went to federal court in Manhattan and filed dueling motions in Rodriguez's lawsuit against Selig, according to the New York Daily News.
Rodriguez's side argues the suit belongs in state court, where it was filed. Selig's side wants the suit dismissed, arguing Rodriguez as a member of the players association is bound by the labor agreements. And that triggers … wait for it … preemption. Team A-Rod accused Team MLB of hitting a foul ball off the pitch in Florida.
"Here, MLB has taken a 180-degree turn, now arguing that Mr. Rodriguez's state law tortious interference claims—which are substantially similar to MLB's claims in the Biogenesis action—are somehow preempted. However, MLB is judicially estopped from taking positions that are contradictory to those it took before the Florida state court," the Rodriguez motion said, according to the Daily News.
"Like MLB's claims in Florida, Mr. Rodriguez's claims here do not implicate the agreements, and Mr. Rodriguez's claims are thus not preempted."
Lawyers for Rodriguez and MLB were unavailable to elaborate or discuss their strategy for the remaining innings.
However, it's an easy bet that judges in Florida and New York will be hearing at least as much about the relationship between preemption and Rodriguez as we've all heard about A-Rod's girlfriends.
"I don't agree with the ruling," Sucart's lawyer, Jeffrey Sonn of Sonn & Erez in Fort Lauderdale, told the New York Post after the Third District decision.
"We're likely going to take this to the Florida Supreme Court for review," he said. "This is far from over."