In a court filing late Friday night, Major League Baseball told the federal judge hearing San Jose’s lawsuit against the league that MLB rejected the Oakland A’s proposal to move to San Jose in June.
Specifically, MLB wrote on page 6 of the Joint Case Management Conference Statement:
In fact, MLB denied the Athletics’ relocation request on June 17, 2013, one day before this lawsuit was filed. On that date, Commissioner Selig formally notified the Athletics ownership that he was not satisfied with the club’s relocation proposal. (Emphasis in original court filing).
MLB’s bold statement appeared to be a shift in position, if not in emphasis, from previous public statements. But a source familiar with the situation told me this morning that the June letter rejected only the specific proposal the A’s had submitted to MLB, on the grounds that the proposal lacked certain information and assurances sought by the league. The source couldn’t provide additional information on where the general idea of the A’s to San Jose currently stands.
Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that A’s owner Lew Wolff said that “because the matter is a legal proceeding, he cannot comment, and he stressed, as always, that he is following the procedures set up by Major League Baseball.”
The June letter from Selig to the A’s has not been made public. In fact, it hasn’t even been shared with the City of San Jose, its attorneys or the Court. MLB is waiting for the Court to enter a protective order before providing the letter in the litigation. Protective orders are common in lawsuits that involve confidential business information, although the breadth and scope of the orders vary from case to case. Neither MLB nor its attorneys responded to specific questions on the basis for keeping the June letter confidential from the public.
It appears that MLB characterized the June letter as a final decision in order to satisfy the Court’s concern that MLB was simply sitting on the San Jose ballpark proposal. In October, Judge Ronald Whyte issued an order dismissing San Jose’s federal and state antitrust claims against MLB, on the basis of baseball’s federal antitrust exemption. But the Court held that San Jose could pursue two state law claims against MLB for interfering with its option agreement with the A’s. Under that option agreement, the A’s have the right to purchase several parcels of land in downtown San Jose to build a ballpark, if MLB approves the move. San Jose alleged that MLB’s indecision on the proposal interfered with the option agreement.
Last night’s filing was in advance of a case management conference the Court will hold on Friday, December 13. At that conference, the Court will consider several issues including: (1) whether the enter judgment on San Jose’s state and federal antitrust claims, so as to allow an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to proceed promptly; (2) whether the Court should retain jurisdiction of the state law claims, after it dismissed the federal claims; and (3) the nature of San Jose’s damages on the state law claims.
Not surprisingly, San Jose is seeking an expedited appeal, while MLB is opposing it. Both sides want Judge Whyte to maintain jurisdiction to resolve the state law claims. San Jose is also asking the Court to order that discovery can proceed. Discovery is the legal tool San Jose can use to obtain documents and sworn testimony from MLB and third parties. MLB opposes that request, and has asked the Court to put the matter on hold while a related state lawsuit proceeds.