The Court of Appeals for Texas has ordered the dismissal of a fraud lawsuit brought by Astros ticketholders against the team. “Claims based on how a sports team plays the game,” the court wrote in a July 15 memorandum opinion, “are not cognizable.”
The ticketholders demand refunds on tickets and parking costs, as well as compensation for “the diminished value of personal licenses.” They also seek assorted monetary damages, including punitive ones, wanting the legal system to appropriately punish the team for supposedly hurting them through the infamous electronic sign-stealing controversy.
“Astros fans,” the ticketholders wrote in their consolidated petition, “once filled with pride and honor for their team, are grappling with embarrassment, disappointment, shame, and disgrace for a team they once believed represented their community, represented them.”
Last September the Astros failed to persuade the trial court judge, Robert Schaffer, to dismiss the lawsuit. The team argued ticketholders have no “justifiable interest” in a game being free from cheating or other in-game wrongdoings that might trigger feelings of disappointment and shame.
In response, the ticketholders maintained that their case is not about surreptitious camerawork and coded bangs on trash cans, but rather the team “intentionally deceiving season ticketholders, their most coveted patrons, into purchasing tickets, parking, concessions, and other goods and services at supra[-]premium prices over multiple years.” If only they had known the truth, the ticketholders maintain, they wouldn’t have bought pricey tickets and incurred other expenses going to Minute Maid Park. Judge Schaffer heard enough to keep the case going.
Two months later the Astros filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Court of Appeals. Ordinarily, such petitions are seldom granted. The Astros had to convince the appellate judges—Justices Ken Wise, Frances Bourliot and Randy Wilson—that Judge Shaffer “clearly abused” his discretion and that the team lacked an adequate remedy otherwise. That is a high bar to meet. It requires a finding that the judge’s decision was arbitrary and unreasonable, failed to analyze the law correctly or misapplied law to facts. Appellate courts usually prefer to review cases after the trial court has completed its work, not right after a motion to dismiss.
The appellate judges nonetheless sided with the Astros. In doing so, they extensively relied on a 2010 case involving the New England Patriots: Carl Mayer v Bill Belichick. Mayer involved a New York Jets season ticketholder who insisted the Patriots “violated the contractual expectations and rights of Jets ticket-holders, who fully anticipated and contracted for a ticket to observe an honest match.” Mayer had attended a game in Giants Stadium where the Patriots violated an NFL camera policy. NFL teams regularly use cameras to tape opposing teams, but the Patriots had placed a camera in a prohibited area. The scandal became known as Spygate.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected Mayer’s case because it lacked a plausible legal theory. Mayer’s ticket didn’t guarantee him an “honest match” or assurance the Jets would be immune from their opponent’s rule-breaking. It only guaranteed him a revocable license to enter Giants Stadium to attend a game between the Jets and Patriots and to sit in a particular seat during that game.
The Court of Appeals found Mayer instructive.
“The plaintiffs,” the order stresses, “have not asserted that they were denied the right of entry into Minute Maid Park or to sit in the seats for which they purchased tickets.” Although the ticketholders say they suffered “embarrassment, disappointment, shame, and disgrace” on account of the Astros’ cheating, those feelings—absent a connection to an identifiable legal right—are not protected by the law.
The order also notes the same decision was reached in Antonio Le Mon v. NFL, a case involving New Orleans Saints fans who sued over a bad no-call in the 2019 NFC Championship Game. Those fans were understandably upset that L.A. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman wasn’t called for pass interference when he pushed Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis out of bounds, but that’s not a harm the law can remedy.
The order requires Judge Schaffer to set aside his order denying the Astros’ motion to dismiss.