(CN) – A federal judge in Dallas has denied a request by aggrieved Super Bowl XLV ticketholders to have their class action against the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys remanded to a state court.
U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn said the plaintiffs – ticketholders who had been denied, relocated or delayed in being seated for the big game between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers – failed to show any compelling reason why the case should be remanded to the state’s Dallas County District Court, where it was initially filed.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had believed that Super Bowl XLV would be a coming-out party of sorts for the $1.5 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Instead, a rare winter storm little more than a week before the Super Bowl substantially damaged part of the facility.
As a result, an estimated 2,000 fans were displaced during the game, and another six people visiting the stadium Super Bowl week were injured by melting snow and ice that fell from the stadium roof.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell later apologized for problems at the stadium and offered the 400 who were left entirely without any seating at all free tickets to the next Super Bowl – currently scheduled to be held in Indianapolis next February, pending the ratification of a new NFL labor agreement. He also offered free merchandise, food and beverages.
In the meantime, however, three ticketholders, Ken Laffin, David Wanta and Rebecca Burgwin, sued on behalf of themselves and similarly situated fans, claiming fraud, breach of contract, fraudulent inducement, negligence and negligent misrepresentation. Along with the NFL and the Cowboys, the class named Jones’ JWJ Corp. and the stadium as defendants.
On Feb. 18, 2011, the defendants removed the class action the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, noting that the amount of the controversy exceeded $5 million.
In considering the ticketholders’ motion to return the case back to state court, the federal judge cited the Class Action fairness Act, which extends original jurisdiction of class-action lawsuits to federal courts in cases where the proposed class contains more than 100 members, where minimal diversity exists between the parties, when the amount in controversy exceeds $5 million and when principal defendants are not states, state officials or other governmental entities.
Though removing parties still carry the burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, the burden shifts to the objecting party once that jurisdiction is established, Lynn ruled.
Trying to show any jurisdictional exceptions through a preponderance of the evidence, the defendants said more than 3,200 ticketholders were either displaced or relocated. They also claimed compensatory damages would not exceed $2.5 million.
While the plaintiffs called the number of alleged class members highly speculative, Lynn said it was unlikely that many, if any, had already settled with the defendants. After all, the NFL had mailed a settlement offer to ticketholders just two days before the lawsuit was filed, Lynn found.
Punitive damages must also be factored into the decision, Lynn added. If the plaintiffs win “just” $2.5 million in compensatory damages, they can expect at least that amount in punitive damages, along with a “reasonable and conservative” estimate of $1 million in attorneys’ fees.