New Lawsuit Challenges MLB’s Investigation Practices

After having been permanently suspended from baseball for performance-enhancing-drug use, relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia announced this past March that he would be challenging his suspension in court, insisting that he’d been wrongfully accused of using PEDs. Mejia even went so far as to hire an attorney, Vincent White, who levied some pretty serious accusations against Major League Baseball. In particular, White contended that he had discovered evidence that the league had illegally hacked into MLB players’ social-media accounts in order to obtain evidence of their PED usage.

Despite the salacious nature of these allegations, Mejia has, to date, not yet elected to make good on his threat of filing suit against MLB. Mejia’s apparent unwillingness to sue hasn’t stopped his attorney from pursuing a case against the league, however.

This past Monday, White sent out a press release announcing that he would file a new lawsuit against MLB on Thursday, a case that he claimed was based on a “multi year investigation” that would bring to light “corrupt mob-like activity” by the league. Rather than filing the suit on behalf of Mejia, however, it turns out that White is instead representing Neiman Nix, a former 29th-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds, who went on to establish both his own baseball training academy, as well as an anti-aging clinic, in Florida.

Nix contends that MLB intentionally interfered with both of these business endeavors, perhaps most notably by subjecting his anti-aging clinic to many of the same, allegedly unsavory investigation techniques that the league used during the midst of the Biogenesis scandal. Nix’s lawsuit thus seeks to hold the league legally responsible for his resulting financial losses.

This isn’t the first time that Nix has filed suit against MLB. Indeed, Nix sued the league in Florida state court on substantially similar grounds back in 2014, a case that was ultimately dismissed without prejudice — meaning that Nix was free to refile his allegations again at a later date — because his attorney at the time had failed to serve MLB with a copy of the lawsuit for more than 200 days after filing suit.

In the new lawsuit filed on Thursday, Nix asserts that he was first targeted by MLB back in 2011 while running his training academy, the American Baseball Institute, in Clearwater, Florida (an entity that Nix’s prior suit had boasted served as “virtually the single largest conduit of professional-level baseball talent in the country”). Nix’s latest suit contends that MLB viewed his institute as a competing, “free agent league,” and therefore set out to destroy his business.

Specifically, Nix alleges that — based on an allegedly phony tip from a former, disgruntled employee of the academy — MLB elected to launch an investigation of the institute, wrongfully claiming that Nix was both improperly presenting himself as an MLB agent to his clients, and hiring people to misrepresent themselves as MLB scouts at institute events. This investigation allegedly damaged Nix’s reputation in the baseball community to the point that many of his institute’s clients left, forcing Nix to sell the business for a fraction of its value.

The lawsuit then contends that MLB once again interfered with Nix in 2013. By this time, Nix had founded the DNA Sports Performance Lab, a “state of the art sports science testing facility for human performance” specializing in the “research and development and sale of natural and bio-identical substances to serve as an alternative to harmful performance-enhancing drugs.” (In particular, Nix’s lawsuit highlights one of the Lab’s products made by “scientifically shav[ing] off” the velvet from elk antlers in order to create a substance mimicking Insulin-like Growth Factor.)

Even though Nix asserts that he never worked with MLB players at his DNA Sports Lab, he nevertheless contends that his clinic was targeted by MLB during its Biogenesis investigation. Allegedly misrepresenting themselves to be agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) or the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Nix believes that MLB’s investigators contacted his clients and colleagues to inquire whether Nix was involved in supplying banned substances to professional baseball players. Nix contends that these inquiries once again tarnished his reputation both within the baseball community and among Nix’s other clientele, harming him financially.

After Nix unsuccessfully requested that MLB stop interfering with his clinic, he eventually filed the aforementioned suit against the league in Florida state court in 2014. He now alleges that this decision triggered additional retribution by the league. Specifically, he contends that MLB began hacking into his social-media accounts, and eventually succeeded in having several of these accounts suspended, hindering his ability to do business.

For its part, MLB responded to the filing of Nix’s latest lawsuit by issuing the following statement:

The lawsuit filed today by Neiman Nix against MLB repeats many of the same allegations he asserted in a Florida lawsuit that was dismissed in 2014. Mr. Nix’s new attorney, Vincent White, has in the past made outrageous claims about MLB. Mr. White’s purported source for this lawsuit is a disgruntled former MLB employee who was terminated for cause. Mr. White has been threatening to file this lawsuit for months in an attempt to coerce MLB into paying his client. MLB considers the allegations in this lawsuit, including the allegations relating to the hacking of DNA Sport Lab’s social media accounts, to be sanctionable under New York law. Other than noting that in Paragraph 40 of the Complaint Mr. Nix admits to selling products purportedly containing at least one banned performance-enhancing substance (IGF-1), MLB has no further comment on this frivolous lawsuit.

Ultimately, Nix will face a variety of hurdles in order to prevail in his case against the league. In addition to having to prove all of the allegations in his complaint, Nix must also establish that the league’s conduct was “wrongful.” While his accusations relating to the alleged hacking of his social-media accounts would, if true, clearly be viewed as inappropriate, the wrongfulness of some of MLB’s other alleged conduct is less clear.

For instance, if the league had a legitimate basis for believing that Nix was improperly portraying himself to be a registered MLB agent to his training academy’s clients, or that he was misleading his clients into believing that his institute attracted MLB scouts, then the league would arguably have a legitimate basis for looking into Nix’s activities. Similarly, given MLB’s interest in stamping out PED use, it’s not entirely clear whether or not the league’s alleged investigation into Nix’s activities at the DNA Sports Lab was legally wrongful.

Even if Nix can prove that MLB acted wrongfully, however, he would also have to prove that the league’s interference actually caused him financial harm. While it’s certainly possible that that would be the case, it is also entirely possible that MLB will be able to show that Nix’s businesses would have failed regardless of the league’s interference. In that case, any damages that Nix would recover in the suit would be modest at best.

All in all, then, considering the various hurdles that Nix’s lawsuit faces — not to mention the fact that he has already previously been unsuccessful in pursuing similar legal claims against the league — the odds that Nix will prevail in the litigation aren’t great. That having been said, if Nix is capable of proving some of his more salacious allegations against the league in court, then it is certainly possible that he will receive a significant judgment against MLB in the case.





Nathaniel Grow is an Associate Professor of Business Law and Ethics at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business. He is the author of Baseball on Trial: The Origin of Baseball's Antitrust Exemption, as well as a number of sports-related law review articles. You can follow him on Twitter @NathanielGrow. The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not express the views or opinions of Indiana University.

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wjylaw
Member
wjylaw

An attorneys view: based on my cursory reading of the Complaint and what I’ve experienced in Tortious Interference cases before (granted only 1 of them in Florida), I don’t think he’s got a very good chance of surviving a Motion for Summary. However, and I have no experience in Florida law with this, it sounds like he may have some business defamation claims and/or some federal/state law claims regarding the computer/social media hacking allegations. However, those two claims aren’t in the Complaint, and I don’t know if that’s by design or based on perhaps missing a statute of limitation on them.

Dave T
Member
Dave T

I’m just speculating/asking as a non-attorney, but curious if this lawsuit has the feel to you an action angling for a settlement (at least if it can get past summary judgement) rather than likely to prevail in court? The thought being that with a suit, discovery, and depositions of people at MLB, there might be some behavior by MLB investigators that’s “salacious” (to use the term from this post) and embarrassing from an MLB PR perspective, but not enough to prevail on any of these legal claims.

wjylaw
Member
wjylaw

Perhaps. The main problem I see is that I think there’s a decent chance the claims get kicked on a Motion without much if any discovery because I don’t think the facts alleged, even if you assumed they all were true, meet the standard for tortious interference. I think if he brought the other claims I mentioned they’d be able to get through a lot more discovery. On the flip side, I don’t think MLB takes this guy very seriously no matter what he would have claimed.