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Texas Appeals Court Rejects Class Action Over Baseball Cheating Scandal

Fans said they never would have bought Houston Astros tickets had they known about the team’s sign-stealing scheme, but the court found they are not entitled to damages.

HOUSTON (CN)  — A Texas appeals court ruled Thursday that a class action against the Houston Astros brought by fans upset over a signal-stealing scandal must be dismissed because they have no legal basis to recover damages.

The lawsuit, brought in February 2020, alleged the team overcharged fans for season tickets for the 2017 through 2020 seasons because its players were secretly stealing pitch signs, as confirmed by a Major League Baseball investigation.

The investigation revealed Astros players watched a live feed from a camera mounted in centerfield showing the other teams’ catchers signing to pitchers and then banged on a trash can with a bat to tip off their teammates as to what kind of pitch was coming, fastball or off-speed.

The plaintiffs argued the team was “intentionally deceiving” season ticket holders, and had they known about the sign-stealing scheme, they never would have purchased the tickets or other merchandise.

The Astros moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the plaintiffs weren’t entitled to watch a game free from MLB rule violations and couldn’t bring a lawsuit just because they were disappointed over how the team played the game.

The trial court denied the motion to dismiss, but Texas' 14th Court of Appeals vacated the ruling and ordered the lower court to toss the case.

"It is clear that the plaintiffs’ claims arise from the way the Astros’ played the game and the plaintiffs’ ‘embarrassment, disappointment, shame, and disgrace’ of the sign-stealing scandal despite their attempts to couch their claims in terms of off-the-field misrepresentations," the ruling states.

The court pointed to a 2020 decision from the Philadelphia-based Third Circuit that addressed a similar case in which a New York Jets season ticketholder sued the New England Patriots and its head coach Bill Belichick after it was discovered the Patriots were secretly videotaping the signals of their opponents in 2007.

In that case, the federal appeals court said the issue boiled down to whether a ticketholder has the right “to see an ‘honest’ game played in compliance with the fundamental rules of the NFL itself,” the Texas court noted. The Third Circuit ultimately held that ticketholders had, at best, a contractual right to enter the stadium and have a seat to watch the game.

Like in the Jets case, the Texas court ruled that because the Astros fans did not allege being blocked from entering the stadium and watching the baseball game, they did not lose any legally protected right.

"In Texas, a ticket to a baseball game is a revocable license," the ruling states. "The plaintiffs have not asserted that they were denied the right of entry into Minute Maid Park or to sit in the seats for which they purchased tickets."

Attorneys for the ticketholders did not immediately return a request for comment.

Follow Rosana Hughes on Twitter

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