It’s been a long time coming — the trial court decision came in October 2013 — but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled against San Jose in its effort to get Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption set aside. I have yet to read the decision in full. I’ll update once I do. In the meantime:
San Jose has been trying to get the Oakland A’s to move there, but the territory belongs to the San Francisco Giants and sued the league, alleging that its antitrust exemption which allows the league to block a team from moving into another’s territory, was unconstitutional. While I am in total sympathy with San Jose over the antitrust exemption — I believe it is dumb and should be overturned at some point — their case on the merits was really, really weak for a host of reasons.
I detailed the reasons why this was the case nearly two years ago, but the short version is that, even if the antitrust exemption should be overturned, San Jose’s specific case does establish an antitrust injury. Maybe the Athletics are being injured by not being able to move where they want to go, but they’re not the ones suing. San Jose has lost nothing as a result of Major League Baseball’s acts — maybe $75,000 on a land purchase option — and their entire complaint is otherwise based on speculative damages.
But to even get a court to listen to those, someone has to rule that Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption does not apply. The 9th Circuit has now refused to do that, leaving San Jose with the U.S. Supreme Court. So, let’s meet back here in a couple of years and see how that goes.
UPDATE: Read the decision. It’s a just full-fledged Heisman at San Jose, citing the three big Supreme Court cases giving MLB its antitrust exemption — most recently the Curt Flood case — and saying that San Jose doesn’t even get past the first threshold. MLB’s exemption from the antitrust laws, while not absolute, certainly covers franchise relocation, the court ruled, thus kicking this one to the curb as a matter of law.
San Jose can go to the Supreme Court. But the Supreme Court has itself ruled that it will take Congress acting to change the law as it applies to Major League Baseball in order to have the exemption removed or modified enough to cover cases like this. So, sorry guys.