SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A federal judge dismissed with prejudice professional caddies' proposed class action demanding a cut of the $50 million annual ad revenue the PGA Tour makes from selling corporate logos on caddies' bibs.
Caddies sign contracts for their work are not just "human billboards," U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria said in his Tuesday order.
Eighty-three caddies sued the PGA Tour in February 2015, seeking a cut of the ad revenue the Tour makes from corporate logos on bibs that caddies wear without compensation.
Lead plaintiff William Michael Hicks has caddied for more than 30 years, working for Payne Stewart, Greg Norman, Steve Stricker and Justin Leonard.
The PGA Tour requires caddies to wear bibs with logos during tournaments, and also may use the caddies' images and bibs in television ads.
The caddies claimed the bib requirement violated their contracts with the Tour, violated their "right of publicity," and breached federal antitrust and trademark laws.
But Chhabria ruled in December that the caddies incorrectly defined the market in the lawsuit, which alleged they received no ad revenue and never consented to the Tour's commercial use of their likenesses and images.
"I think your argument depends on this really artificial definition of the market that you've concocted," Chhabria said at a December hearing.
Class attorney Chris Gaduroy argued that the market for endorsements displayed during tournaments was more valuable and distinct from other forms of endorsements, including TV commercials and print ads in golf magazines.
Viewers' eyes were fixed on the screen during live play, as opposed to commercials, Gaduroy said, which can be tuned out or ignored.
But Chhabria, acknowledging the differences between the forms of endorsements, ruled that the caddies failed to explain how live-play endorsements were so distinct that they formed a separate market.
"I think you've kind of gerrymandered the market to try to shoehorn this dispute into an antitrust claim," Chhabria said.
Chhabria allowed the caddies to submit a brief on their breach of contract claim. But on Tuesday, Chhabria dismissed that claim with prejudice after the proposed class had more than doubled to include 168 caddies.
Chhabria said the caddies signed contracts with the Tour and could not claim that corporate sponsorship on bibs made them "human billboards."
"Even if this contract language might appear susceptible to two different interpretations when considered in isolation, there is only one reasonable interpretation when the language is considered in the context of this case," Chhabria wrote.
Chhabria said that caddies have been required to wear the bibs "for decades."
"So caddies know when they enter the profession, that wearing a bib during tournaments is part of the job," the ruling states. "For that reason, there is no merit to the caddies' contention that contracts somehow prevent the Tour from requiring them to wear bibs." Chhabria was not entirely unsympathetic to the caddies.
"The caddies' overall complaint about poor treatment by the Tour has merit, but this federal lawsuit about bibs does not," he wrote.
Should the caddies appeal, it will go to the Ninth Circuit.
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