Missouri Court Rules Against Rams in Relocation Dispute

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley leaves Tennessee Titans cornerback Brice McCain behind as Gurley scores a touchdown on an 80-yard pass reception in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

ST. LOUIS (CN) – St. Louis won another round in its legal battle against the Rams and the National Football League over the team’s move to Los Angeles, after a Missouri appeals court ruled Tuesday that the Rams cannot compel arbitration to settle the dispute.

In April 2017, the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, St. Louis and St. Louis County sued the Rams, the NFL and the league’s 32 owners, including Rams owner E. Stanley Kroenke, in St. Louis city court. The lawsuit claims the Rams failed to meet the league’s relocation guidelines, which were adopted in 1984 after the Ninth Circuit ruled the NFL had violated antitrust statutes regarding the Raiders’ move from Oakland to Los Angeles.

The Rams and Kroenke moved to compel arbitration, arguing the team’s relocation and lease agreements, both entered in 1995 when the Rams relocated from Los Angeles to St. Louis, contain mandatory arbitration provisions and that St. Louis’ claims “touch matters” covered by those contracts.

A St. Louis City Circuit Court judge denied the Rams’ motion last December and a three-judge panel of the Missouri Appeals Court’s Eastern District affirmed the decision Tuesday.

“We’re very pleased with the ruling, I think the opinion speaks for itself,” Christopher Bauman, one of the city’s attorneys, said in an interview. “All three judges were unanimous and they laid it out pretty clearly.”

Attorneys representing the Rams did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday afternoon. If there is no appeal, the case will return to St. Louis City Circuit Court.

The Rams and Kroenke, the only defendants in the original lawsuit to seek arbitration, claimed the trial court erred in its denial of their motion in three ways: the court disregarded the arbitration clauses in the 1995 relocation and lease agreements; the dispute touches on matters covered by those agreements; and Kroenke, an agent of the Rams and signatory of the lease and relocations agreements, is entitled to invoke arbitration against another signatory.

The St. Louis plaintiffs countered that the Rams’ argument for arbitration is based out of the assumption that their claims apply to the 1995 relocation and lease agreements, when in fact the claims relate to league policy, which does not have an arbitration requirement.

“At issue is whether plaintiffs and appellants agreed to arbitrate the disputes raised in plaintiffs’ petition—not whether they agreed to arbitrate disputes arising out of the 1995 lease or 1995 relocation agreement,” Judge Philip H. Hess wrote for the panel in a 13-page opinion. “We conclude that plaintiffs and appellants have not agreed to arbitrate the specific disputes at issue here related to the NFL policy.”

Hess continued by addressing each of the five counts in the plaintiffs’ lawsuit – breach of contract and unjust enrichment against the Rams, NFL and owners, fraudulent misrepresentation against the Rams and separately against all the defendants, and interference with business expectancy against the league and its owners “based upon the clubs’ vote allowing the Rams to move from St. Louis to Los Angeles.”

“All of these counts are based on the respective defendants’ alleged failure to comply with their obligations under the NFL policy, not the 1995 lease or 1995 relocation agreement,” the judge wrote.

Chief Judge Lisa P. Page and Judge Roy L. Richter concurred.

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