Tuesday, March 31, 2015

UFC's Lawsuit Against New York Dismissed


The federal lawsuit filed by Zuffa LLC against the State Attorney General, a suit that was meant to strike down the statute that kept MMA competitions out of New York, was dismissed today by presiding Judge Kimba Wood on the grounds that Zuffa lacked sufficient standing for the suit.

The legal tenet of "standing" centers around the idea that a plaintiff bringing a suit must somehow be aggrieved by the law in question. In this instance, because the UFC never had a show shut down by the State and no such shutdown was imminent, Judge Wood ruled that that necessary element did not exist.

Once seen as the greatest hope MMA supporters had of getting sanctioned fights into state - where such events had been banned since 1997 via the "Combative Sports Law" - the suit was initially a challenge on First Amendment grounds, with the notion put forth that professional MMA events had a "message" and were therefore a form of protected speech. Over time, and over the course of motions by the Attorney General's Office and rulings by Judge Wood, the focus of the challenge changed to one that argued that the law, as it had been applied through the years, was too vague - which is another violation of the Constitution. Evidence had been gathered in that regard, and Motions to Dismiss utilizing that gathered evidence were filed by both sides in late August of 2014. Today's ruling by Judge Wood was the result of the State's motion.

Some key quotes from Judge Wood's ruling include:
  • "...[T]he record contains no evidence that any of the stipulating Plaintiffs — Gina Carano, Frankie Edgar, Matt Hammill, Danielle Hobeika, Beth Hurrle, Donna Hurle, Jon Jones, Steve Kardian, Joseph Lozito, Erik Owings, Chris Reitz, Jennifer Santiago, and Brian Stann — has suffered an injury in fact caused by Defendants and redressable by the Court."
  • "The question, however, is not whether Plaintiffs are, in some general sense, part of the population that the Ban 'regulates'; it is whether Plaintiffs have suffered an injury from the actual or imminent application of the Ban to their specific involvement with sanctioned professional MMA, professional MMA held on tribal land, or amateur MMA."
  • "To establish an imminent threat of prosecution, the non-stipulating Plaintiffs must submit evidence of their concrete plans to organize and promote the three types of MMA performances listed above, and must demonstrate that enforcement of the Ban against those plans is certainly impending, or at least a substantial risk... The non-stipulating Plaintiffs have failed to make that showing for any of their remaining as-applied vagueness claims."
  • "Before this suit was filed, Zuffa appears to have inquired only about sanctioned professional MMA in the abstract, and not about a particular event. [The New York State Athletic Commission's] statement that such generalized conduct would be illegal, without some additional targeting of Zuffa in particular, would not constitute an imminent threat of prosecution."
While today's dismissal is certainly not an outcome Zuffa wanted, it may not mean the end of the case. In her ruling, Judge Wood made clear that any events supporting the vagueness claim that had occurred after the suit was filed (for example, the State flip-flopping in court on whether third-party sanctioning is allowed) could not be considered; they could, however, be considered in a new action. Judge Wood also suggested that a suit could be filed in state court.

The outcome of this lawsuit has little bearing on the legislative fight presently underway in Albany. In fact, one aspect of the lawsuit has without question helped the cause: In a filing early on, the State Attorney General admitted that the Combative Sports Law does not ban amateur MMA events. The subsequent proliferation of such events - none of which are sanctioned by the State - has helped shaped Zuffa's lobbying message, with the argument being that the ban needs to be lifted so the athletic commission can make amateur events safer.

Stay tuned for more analysis of Judge Wood's ruling.

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