The Chicago Cubs are reportedly prepared to seek a permit to put up an advertising sign in right field, previously approved by the relevant Chicago bodies, which would impact the views of some of (one of?) the rooftop buildings with whom the Cubs currently have a revenue-sharing agreement. That decision emanates out of an apparently troubled negotiating session on Tuesday, and the rooftops’ decision to file a lawsuit implicating the Cubs.
I was able to get my eyes on a copy of the complaint filed by the rooftops (thanks to Matt Spiegel for the assist; give him a follow or a listen), and gave it a basic review. As has been reported, the gist is the rooftops suing Marc Ganis, a sports consultant, for allegedly defamatory statements he made to the Sun-Times last year. The thrust of the rooftops’ gripe is that Ganis’ statements – which commented on the rooftops’ “stealing” of the Cubs’ product – were both false and harmful. There are allegations concerning the renovation, but only as they relate to Ganis’s allegedly defamatory statements. To be quite clear, this is not a lawsuit about the outfield signage or the overall renovation and development plan.
However, I think that the Cubs are more strongly implicated in this suit than has been reported. The Cubs, including their owners and related entities, are named as “respondents in discovery,” which means they are not defendants at this time. But, the rooftops claim that, at the time Ganis made the allegedly defamatory statements, he was “acting within the scope of his employment or association with the Cubs in promoting the Cubs’ position with the City of Chicago and the public.” Further, the rooftops seek to hold the Cubs liable for Ganis’s statements should he be found to have been acting in the scope of such a relationship with the Cubs (if one actually existed).* For now, the rooftops seek only to include the Cubs in discovery – i.e., to be able to ask the Cubs questions and seek documents – so that they can determine whether the Cubs, or other entities, should be included in the suit as defendants. Depending on that discovery, or on the Cubs’ desire to litigate, the Cubs could at some point in the near future become defendants in this suit.
In part, adding the Cubs as potentially liable for Ganis’s actions is merely a “deep pockets” maneuver, common in litigation. But, because the allegation amounts to the rooftops claiming the Cubs smeared the rooftops publicly by way of Ganis, it’s easy to see why the Cubs could see the lawsuit as a shot across the bow. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that, with the statute of limitations ready to run on Tuesday – the same day as the contentious meeting – this very suit was held on the table by the rooftops as a threat to get a deal done that day. A deal didn’t get done, and the lawsuit was filed. Time ran out.
That is all to say that, while this particular lawsuit is not about the renovation or the outfield signage, the existence of the suit is probably very much related to those issues. The rooftops may now have a touch more leverage than they did a week ago, but they’ve also probably got a very angry entity across the table.
*(It gets particularly thorny if you extend the rooftops’ argument further: what if they contend that statements like the one made by Ganis sufficiently swayed public opinion against the rooftops, thus pushing the various political entities involved in the planned development process to side with the Cubs? Could the rooftops then argue that, but for these kinds of statements, the planned development wouldn’t have been, and shouldn’t have been, approved? If you’re thinking that’s an extremely tenuous line of argument, I’d agree with you. But, in law, an argument is an argument, and if you’re backed into a corner, you’ll make any argument you can find.)
In the interest of fairness and balance, I am compelled to note that, because the statute of limitations was about to run on the rooftops’ ability to sue Ganis for his remarks (it literally would have expired the day they filed the suit, meaning if they waited another day, they could no longer file), the rooftops could simply have been looking to protect their rights here. And because all of the rooftops have joined in the suit, it is plausible that some of those rooftops’ primary concern with this suit really is the allegation that their businesses have suffered because of the Ganis statements (and the allegedly resulting negative feelings). In that instance, maybe for some of the rooftops, this suit really isn’t about needling the Cubs or gaining leverage in the renovation talks. It could simply be about believing someone did something wrong, and a business was hurt because of it.
As for the strength of the suit, I’m no longer a practicing attorney, so I don’t want to do too much lawyering. I did have a lawyer friend (and BN’er) take a look, and his opinion was that the claims are not particularly strong. In other words, there’s probably not a ton of exposure here for the Cubs, should things turn further sour, and litigation – in this suit – proceeds in force.
Setting aside the lawsuit, there has already been at least one modestly positive update (paired with some more fighting, of course).
The Tribune offers more on the negotiation impasse, with input from Alderman Patrick O’Connor, who had been serving as a kind of mediator. According to O’Connor, the two sides had agreed as of last week that the right field sign would actually be moved back onto one of the rooftops, but when final computer renderings of the left field sign were shown (that’s the video board), the rooftops said there was too much blockage. On the bright side, O’Connor opined that the sides will continue talking and trying to resolve things short of a full-blown court battle.
Hopefully this first lawsuit remains a side battle that never erupts into the big boy we’ve all been fearing. Hell, maybe this first lawsuit gets the sides even more motivated to hammer out a deal.