Major League Baseball moved to dismiss the antitrust lawsuit filed against it by the city of San Jose over the relocation — or lack of relocation — by the Oakland A’s. The Mercury-News has the full story. The short version, though, is that among the multiple defenses the suit raises, Major League Baseball has asserted that San Jose has no standing to sue.
This was the biggest weakness I and many others saw when the suit was filed. All plaintiffs to a lawsuit must be able to show that he or she has some personal legal interest that has been damaged by the defendant. It is not enough that the plaintiff has an interest of sorts or a prospective interest. It has to be a concrete personal stake in the outcome of the suit. As Major League Baseball argued in its filing yesterday, San Jose has no such interest:
“The alleged harms are too remote and speculative to support an antitrust claim. If [San Jose’s claims were supported], it would lead to absurd results: every time a franchise contemplated relocation, MLB would be subjected to suits from any city that desires a team and from any city that does not want to lose a team … San Jose is a city. And, like many cities, it may want to host a Major League Club in a brand new revenue-producing stadium, and to entertain fans in its local businesses. San Jose is not, however, a Major League club, a potential purchaser of a Major League club, or the owner of a stadium that is available for lease to a Major League club.”
I’m normally not too impressed with lawyers’ “this would create absurd results” arguments, because often they don’t point to any actually possible absurd results. But really, if you read and believe San Jose’s lawsuit, any city could file such a suit. When the Rays talk speculatively about maybe one day having to leave St. Petersburg, there’s really nothing stopping, say, the city of Newark, New Jersey from saying “we’d love to have the Rays but we can’t because of MLB’s territorial rules and that prevents us from making all kinds of money on a franchise so please help us out, court.”
Sure, unlike that scenario there has been flirtation between the A’s and San Jose, but there is really nothing more legally binding between them than there is between the Rays and Newark. They have one thing: a land-purchase option that provides San Jose no guarantees of any kind beyond some very low payments to keep the option open. That money has been paid. They’re out nothing by virtue of Major League Baseball’s anti-competitive behavior. No obligations actually legally owed to them have been thwarted by Major League Baseball.
This would be different if the A’s were plaintiffs here and their interest in moving was being thwarted. Or if there was actually some investment (beyond a P.R. offensive by San Jose’s mayor) to get the A’s to San Jose which was undertaken with a reasonable expectation that the move could happen. But we don’t have that here. We have no damages. San Jose has no standing.
I so want this lawsuit to be successful for selfish, end-driven reasons having to do with my disdain for MLB’s antitrust exemption and my desire to see teams move to follow the nation’s population patterns. But this isn’t the suit that’s gonna do it. At least as it is currently structured.