Bob Gutkowski, who used to be the president of the MSG Network is suing George Steibrenner, claiming that Big Stein stole his idea for the YES Network and reneged on promises that Gutkowski would be given a job and all of the kind of stuff that goes along with those kinds of claims. YES is now supposed to be worth $3 billion, so it’s a pretty significant claim.
So too was a lawsuit I once defended when I was in private practice. The claim — and I am not making this up — was filed by an inmate in a prison in southern Ohio who claimed that he invented the idea of the Happy Meal and the Value Meal when he worked at McDonalds when he was a teenager. The complaint, which was written in pencil, sought $100 billion. My client, McDonalds, paid my firm to defend the claim, but it’s not like they were too worried about it. And yes, I won.
I suppose Mr. Gutkowski’s claims have a bit more factual basis than the inmate’s, but I question whether he’ll have any more success.
For one thing, he seems like he’d have a statute of limitations problem. The YES Network debuted in 2002. I’m guessing Mr. Gutkowski knew well before then that he wasn’t getting a piece of it or a job with it. But even if he didn’t, the statute of limitations for contract and fraud claims in New York is six years. Most other torts are three years. All of those dates have run, even if we started the running from the network’s March 19, 2002 debut. I’m assuming he has some novel theory as to why he didn’t have to file his lawsuit before now, but those kinds of theories tend not to work too well when they’re asserted by wealthy, grown-up businessmen who should know better.
There’s also a tactical problem. I haven’t seen the complaint, but the allegations seem to hinge on conversations Gutkowski had with George Steinbrenner. The same George Steinbrenner who is basically a recluse these days, most likely because he is suffering from dementia of some sort. Maybe Gutkowski was banking on winning because Steinbrenner couldn’t really defend himself. Maybe he’s thinking the Yankees might buy him off so they don’t have to file papers in a lawsuit explaining Steinbrenner’s incompetence to testify.
The problem, though, is that (a) courts tend to protect the incompetent, not punish them; and (b) the Yankees are a business, not some 18th century monarchy, so they’re not going to pay off this guy simply to avoid revealing to the masses that the king isn’t well. If this turns into a P.R. war over George’s health, the Yankees are going to win it.
So I guess I’ll give this guy an E for effort and a T for nice try, but this lawsuit smells like a loser.