(CN) - San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis can't evade accusations that he skipped out on an agent's $250,000 cut for hooking him up with Jamba Juice, but will be able to fight the case in California rather than Washington, a D.C. federal judge ruled.
In a complaint filed in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia this past July, plaintiffs Kal Ross and the Kal Ross Sports Agency claim Davis violated an advertising and promotional contract by not paying for the negotiating efforts Ross provided to secure a business relationship with Jamba Juice.
The complaint also names Davis' financial advisor, Amadou Tall, alleging that he "stepped in and usurped the deal, depriving Ross of his percentage." Ross seeks $250,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
Jamba Juice is not a party to Ross' complaint.
According to the complaint, in October 2011 Ross began a six-month effort on behalf of the 49ers tight end to secure advertising and promotional deals with Jamba Juice. Davis agreed to an official exclusive rights agreement giving Ross 15 percent of any compensation received for the agent's work, the complaint states.
Months later, Ross arranged a face-to-face meeting between Davis, Tall and the key decision makers at Jamba Juice. But Ross says that several weeks after the meeting, Tall directed Jamba Juice to discontinue all contact with Ross - claiming that Davis had authorized him to remove Ross the exclusive negotiator.
Tall sent Ross an email attempting to officially cancel the excusive rights contract in July 2012.
Ross says he became aware of Davis' successful partnership with Jamba Juice after reading a February 2013 press release from the company, the compliant states. Jamba Juice announced it had entered a store development agreement with Davis that hoped to "enhance the brand's presence in the extended Santa Clara marketplace over the next two years" and planned to use its partnership with Davis to promote "lifestyle changes" for individuals who were seeking better nutrition.
Davis successfully removed the case to the D.C. federal court and argued for dismissal, claiming that Ross' failure to register as a sports agent in California - a state-law requirement - doomed his complaint. The 49er used the same argument to get a nearly identical lawsuit Ross filed in San Francisco federal court dismissed with leave to amend in 2013.
Ross voluntarily dropped that case and took it to the Washington court 10 months later.
But rather than grant the 49er's dismissal request, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg last week opted to stay out of the "choice of law quagmire" and sent the case back to the Northern District of California. He noted that although Ross had claimed the contract with Davis was executed in Washington, the agent had also claimed in his first suit that San Francisco was the proper venue because Davis works, lives and promotes Jamba Juice in the Bay Area.
"Not only could this case have been brought in the Northern District of California, it was in fact previously filed and litigated there," Boasberg wrote. "In addition, both defendants are from California, and Davis resides in San Francisco, making venue proper in the Northern District of California. And, of course, the court notes plaintiffs' own prior statements from their California pleadings asserting the propriety of venue in the Northern District. To repeat, plaintiffs alleged that 'a substantial part of the events on which the claim is based occurred' there, that the disputed contract 'was formed' there, and that 'substantially all the conduct of the parties alleged in this complaint occurred in California.'"
Although he noted that either court could conceivably have jurisdiction in the case, Boasberg stopped just short of saying that Ross was court shopping.
"The court also notes that although the sundry assertions made by plaintiffs regarding venue may be somewhat reconcilable - that is, their suit may have a substantial nexus to both the District of Columbia and the Northern District of California - the manner in which they phrased their venue allegations here remains misleading at best and disingenuous at worst," Boasberg wrote. "Under such circumstances, the court believes it just to hold plaintiffs to the representations in their first suit establishing the propriety of venue in the Northern District of California and to return the suit to that district."
Davis became the highest-paid tight end in NFL history when he signed with the 49ers as a first-round draft pick in 2006. He signed a $37 million five-year contract extension in 2010.
The 49er currently owns two Jamba Juice operations in Santa Clara, Calif.
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