The threat has been out there for years, and now, here we are.
Up front: Lawsuits are complicated beasts, especially high stakes business litigation, so I’m not going to give you a thorough take on the substantive merits of this lawsuit right now. I’m also going to remind you that I am no longer a practicing attorney, and any time I discuss these kinds of things, I’m just giving you my own, non-lawyer thoughts, which are informed by a history with this kind of lawsuit.
(And, even if I were still a practicing attorney, I’d caution you that understanding the ins and outs of a case – and every cause of action – takes a very long time and an intimate familiarity with the facts/documents/people/history/etc. We won’t ever have all of that. And, even if you do have all of that, you still can’t always predict with a great deal of certainty the way these things are going to go.)
All right, enough preamble. Two of the rooftop businesses that sit across the street from Wrigley Field have filed suit in federal court against the Chicago Cubs and Tom Ricketts, specifically. You can see a write-up of the lawsuit here at the Tribune, and a write-up of the lawsuit here at Crain’s, together with a copy of the complaint.
In short, the two rooftops accuse the Cubs of engaging in anticompetitive behavior (i.e., an unlawful monopoly) with respect to tickets to see live Cubs games*. The vast majority of the complaint focuses on this argument, including how the Cubs allegedly sought to fix prices and monopolize the market for Cubs tickets by purchasing, or attempting to purchase, various rooftops. This argument, by the way, comes first. In my experience, when you see a disproportionately large argument first in the complaint, that tends to suggest it is what a party views as its strongest argument.
The rooftops also accuse the Cubs of planning to breach the revenue sharing agreement by seeking to block views into the park by way of advertising signage. There is also an accusation of breach of the non-disparagement clause of the contract.
The rooftops also include various consumer protection and deceptive practices claims tied to various public comments, mostly attributed to Ricketts, regarding the rooftops’ businesses. Similarly, the rooftops accuse Ricketts of defaming them.
The rooftops seek monetary damages and an injunction against the blockage, among other requests for relief.
An attorney for the Cubs indicated to both the Tribune and Crain’s that the Cubs will defend the lawsuit, and work will continue at Wrigley Field.
The lawsuit was filed nearly a year after last year’s Cubs Convention, from which various comments are referenced in the complaint. That’s not a coincidence, as the statute of limitations was going to run on several of the claims if the lawsuit was not filed within a year of the actions that gave rise to the lawsuit. In other words, the Cubs and the Ricketts Family were very likely expecting this suit this week.
Generally, the Cubs and Mr. Ricketts have a few weeks to respond to the complaint, but there are mechanisms to make that upwards of a couple months, and they can – and will – file a motion to dismiss the complaint on various grounds. That motion will require a response and then a reply, and that all can take a very long time. Lawsuits tend not to move terribly quickly at this stage in the litigation. Eventually, there will be a push from the court to settle the case, likely before the sides engage in costly discovery, so there’s a chance this does go away before too long. But you never know for sure, and the process can take months and months.
*(I know. You are reacting appropriately when you furrow your brow trying to figure out how it is unlawful for a professional sports to team to have a monopoly on selling its own tickets. The rooftops essentially make an argument that they have a right to sell tickets to Cubs games, and thus there’s a broader market for Cubs tickets, so it would thus be unlawful for the Cubs to try and fix prices among the Cubs and the rooftops. As I’ve said before: when a company’s life is on the line in litigation, any and all arguments are made. This argument, whatever its ultimate merit, does help get the case in federal court, because it is a federal cause of action not directly tied to the revenue-sharing agreement (which is, itself, subject to arbitration).)