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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
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San Jose’s Appeal Over Oakland A’s Struck Out

(CN) - Silicon Valley's largest city can't use an antitrust action to force the long-delayed relocation of the Oakland Athletics, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday, citing "one of federal law's most enduring anomalies."

It has been six years since the Oakland A's petitioned Major League Baseball to let them relocate to San Jose, a feat that requires approval of at least three-quarters of MLB's 30 clubs. A "special Relocation Committee" that MLB tasked with investigating the move has yet to come to a decision.

Big League rules generally prohibit teams from operating within another franchise's exclusive territory, and the San Francisco Giants hold the territorial rights to Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose.

The city challenged MLB's historically exclusive control over team relocation in a federal antitrust lawsuit against the league and Commissioner Allan "Bud" Selig, alleging that a decision on the A's move, which has caused the club to delay an option agreement to build a new stadium in San Jose, has been slow-walked to save the Giants' monopoly.

Though U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte found that an antitrust exemption MLB has enjoyed since 1922 was "unrealistic, inconsistent, or illogical," he dismissed the city's antitrust and state-law claims because of that exemption in 2013.

The exemption, which the U.S. Supreme Court also upheld in 1972's Flood v. Kuhn, freed the league from many antitrust claims based on a contention that baseball games represent local rather than interstate commerce.

Affirming Whyte's dismissal on Thursday, a three-judge appellate panel declined to disturb the high court's precedent, while noting that San Jose had joined "the long line of litigants that have sought to overturn one of federal law's most enduring anomalies."

"Like Casey, San Jose has struck out here," Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the panel. "The scope of the Supreme Court's holding in Flood plainly extends to questions of franchise relocation. San Jose is, at bottom, asking us to deem Flood wrongly decided, and that we cannot do. Only Congress and the Supreme Court are empowered to question Flood's continued vitality, and with it, the fate of baseball's singular and historic exemption from the antitrust laws."

Kozinski clarified however that Flood and its kin don't release MLB from all antitrust suits.

"There might be activities that MLB and its franchises engage in that are wholly collateral to the public display of baseball games, and for which antitrust liability may therefore attach," Kozinski wrote. "But San Jose does not - and cannot - allege that franchise relocation is such an activity. To the contrary, few, if any, issues are as central to a sports league's proper functioning as its rules regarding the geographic designation of franchises.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said Thursday that the city would appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

"When the City Council decided to pursue this lawsuit, we knew that success would likely require a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, because only the Supreme Court can revisit its century-old decision that created an anti-trust exemption that no American industry other than Major League Baseball enjoys," Liccardo said in a statement. "San Jose should be allowed to compete with other cities for major league teams, and I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the nation's fundamental predisposition toward fair and free competition."

Attorneys for MLB did not immediately return requests for comment.

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