Reporting by Mike Scarcella; Editing by Leigh Jones
Sept 19 (Reuters) – Two minor league baseball teams asked the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a Major League Baseball rule they say is part of the “broad immunity” that has protected MLB from antitrust liability of the United States for more than a century.
Minor league baseball teams Tri-City ValleyCats and Norwich Sea Unicorns filed the legal challenge Monday in an attempt to revive their claims against professional baseball.
The minor league teams, represented by Weil, Gotshal & Manges, argue that MLB’s 2020 restructuring (restricting how many minor league teams can affiliate with professional clubs) should not be immune from antitrust liability.
The case will give the justices their last chance to weigh MLB’s antitrust exemption, which the Supreme Court created in a 1922 ruling that said baseball games were “purely state matters” outside the reach of U.S. competition law. . Subsequent rulings have confirmed the exemption.
In 2015, the high court upheld a ruling against the city of San Jose, California, in its bid to be the new home of the Oakland Athletics.
An MLB spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Jeffrey Wall of Sullivan & Cromwell, who represented the league in the litigation, declined to comment.
Weil’s Gregory Silbert said in an email Tuesday that “baseball should be treated the same as any other league sport. We believe the Supreme Court is ready to agree with us.”
The 2020 reorganization at the center of the case reduced the number of minor league affiliates from 160 to 120 and blocked major league teams from affiliating with more than four minor league clubs.
The excluded minor league teams maintain that the move cost them substantial value or caused them to collapse.
In the petition to the Supreme Court, the teams argued that “professional baseball enjoys ‘aberrant’ and judicially created immunity from antitrust laws.”
MLB attorneys have called the plaintiffs’ antitrust claims “patently frivolous” and said the litigation was a “futile quest to impose liability on MLB for failing to renew the plaintiffs’ contracts.”
In 2022, U.S. District Judge Andrew Carter in Manhattan applied baseball’s exemption and ruled against minor league teams.
In June, the Second Circuit upheld that order, saying the appeals court “must continue to apply Supreme Court precedent unless and until it is overturned by the Supreme Court.”
Biden’s U.S. Justice Department filed briefs in trial and appellate courts supporting the minor league teams.
The case is Tri-City ValleyCats Inc and Oneonta Athletic Corporation v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, Supreme Court of the United States, number not assigned.
To the petitioners: Gregory Silbert of Weil, Gotshal & Manges
To the respondent: Not yet submitted
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