Monday, September 28, 2015

Deja Vu All Over Again: Breaking Down the UFC's New Lawsuit vs. New York


In March, the UFC's 2011 lawsuit against the State of New York - which initially attacked the state's ban on professional mixed martial arts on First Amendment grounds but was later switched to "vagueness" claims - was dismissed by Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York. She cited a lack of standing by the UFC (meaning the UFC wasn't sufficiently injured by the ban), but her parting words were encouraging:
"Plaintiffs, particularly Zuffa, may consider filing new vagueness claims based on events that occurred after this lawsuit commenced, including the OAG’s recent statements that the Ban prohibits sanctioned professional MMA (despite its plain language to the contrary)."
Today, the UFC took her advice.

The UFC's newest lawsuit against against New York is a more concise and direct legal argument, with a few added wrinkles thrown in. Here's a breakdown of the salient points of the suit, and the facts surrounding the case:

  • This is an entirely different action than the first lawsuit, which is currently under appeal with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Gone are the First Amendment claims saying New York's ban on pro MMA violates "Freedom of Speech". Instead, the sole focus is how the law, and the State's interpretation of the law, are Unconstitutionally vague (which violates the Fourteenth Amendment's requirement that laws be clear). It builds upon all the evidence gathered in the first lawsuit (hereafter, Jones v. Schneiderman, which is what the first case is called).
  • In terms of rectifying the standing issue, the most telling change about the new suit is its name: Zuffa v. Schneiderman (note: Eric T. Schneiderman is the Attorney General, and entrusted with enforcing New York's laws). Zuffa goes to great lengths to establish itself as a party injured by the law and the varying interpretations of the law by the State. To that end, the UFC officially announced a show on April 23, 2016 at Madison Square Garden today, and the suit alleges that there is a contract with MSG and an agreement in place with the World Kickboxing Association to sanction the event. Since Judge Wood ruled that prior arrangements with MSG and the WKA were insufficient in establishing standing, it's fair to say that this time around Zuffa likely has executed contracts it can point to in furtherance of their claims.
  • Unlike Jones v. Schneiderman, Zuffa vs. Schneiderman asks for the court to render a declaratory judgment on the law (Jones v. Schneiderman sought damages), and it sets the stage for a preliminary injunction (which would prevent the State from shutting down the April show) to be filed.
  • The war the UFC is waging to change the law in New York now has three fronts: Zuffa v. Schneiderman, Jones v. Schneiderman, and the battle in the legislature.
  • The presumption under today's suit is that April's UFC event will be sanctioned not by the New York State Athletic Commission but the WKA, which SHOULD be able to sanction pro MMA under the current statute. However, there are a lot of moving parts complicating the matter. 
    • First, there's the strong possibility that the Combative Sports Law (i.e., the law on the books now) will be repealed by the legislature at the beginning of the 2016 session in January or February. If that happens, the loophole allowing third-party sanctioning will be sewn up, and the UFC will have to wait until the New York State Athletic Commission is ready to assume the responsibility (which could be 90 days after the law is signed by the governor).
    • How much of a sure thing is the law changing via the legislature? Well, nothing is a sure thing when it comes to politics, but a court-ordered injunction allowing the UFC to do a huge event at Madison Square Garden is a very hot fire to light under the butts of legislators, especially when it comes to potentially taxable revenue going out the window.
    • Worse still for the State is how much of a black eye a UFC at MSG would cause when it isn't actually sanctioned by the athletic commission. That's a storyline that would pervade throughout all the mainstream media coverage - and the first UFC at MSG would garner monstrous mainstream media coverage. There is no way the State could spin that in a positive light. The declaratory judgment/injunctive nature of Zuffa v. Schneiderman essentially creates a game of chicken with New York State, and it's a game that no elected or appointed official would want to lose.
Some additional points worth noting:
  • In listing injuries, the UFC admits to a loss of sponsors. This is a good point to make, as there have been certain high-level, blue chip sponsors who have been turned off because there is still a major market that deems the sport illegal.
  • Zuffa v. Schneiderman hasn't been assigned to a judge yet, but when it does, expect the preliminary injunction to be filed soon after. Given how much time is required to properly promote an event, we could see the court rule on the matter in just a couple months. If it does, and it does so in the UFC's favor, it's possible that another MMA organization could leapfrog the UFC's April date and hold an event sooner. It would be at a different venue, of course.
  • If the UFC does hold an event sanctioned by the WKA, it would be no different than if the event were held in a jurisdiction with no athletic commission oversight (like Macao, for example). The WKA has a robust sanctioning apparatus, and it would be boosted by the UFC's people.
Getting MMA legalized in New York has truly been a saga, and this is another chapter in the story. Hopefully, there's a happy ending somewhere down the line.


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the ship's claim last very long! no one seems to be that it is time to stop and? they decide? what they want to achieve? justice ?! said...

Thanks a lot for the depiction of the situation, as well as for adding some additional points worth noting. I believe that there is no way the State could spin that in a positive light.

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