MLB and MLBPA sometimes disagree on questions of law, but the two concur on one point: They’re tired of being sued by a former minor league pitcher who claims they unlawfully ruined his business.
An April 12 ruling that classified Neiman Nix as a “vexatious litigant” will make it more difficult for the founder of DNA Sports Lab, which sells supplements extracted from the shed tissue of elk antlers, to sue the league and union.
Citing “abusive and misuse of the judicial system” and “frivolous lawsuits [that] have served primarily to harass the league and union,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup held that Nix “may not file . . . any further lawsuits” relating to IGF-1—a performance-enhancing substance banned by the MLB-MLBPA joint drug prevention and treatment program—in San Francisco’s federal district court without the judge’s blessing.
Nix, who pitched in the minors in the late 1990s and early 2000s, has filed at least nine lawsuits against MLB, MLBPA and, as Alsup writes, “others with some tangential connection to baseball, such as ESPN and Gatorade.” The lawsuits have been litigated in federal and state courts in California, Florida, New York and Texas.
In court documents, the company has boasted of products created by “scientifically developed methods” that “naturally help the human body perform” and that differ “from the basic deer antler sprays that are on the market.” To explain this claim, the lab notes that “the antler’s velvet is scientifically shaved off and made into very potent liquids and creams.” Yet Nix and DNA sports insist they never sold to MLB players any substance or product banned by MLB rules. To that point, the lawsuits aren’t about the IGF-1 ban itself. Instead, they focus on the investigation that ensnared A-Rod.
In 2013, MLB launched a crackdown on anti-aging clinics that were supplying players with custom-made, and detection-evading, PEDs. More than a dozen players, including Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, were implicated. MLB obtained key evidence by suing Biogenesis and its founder, Anthony Bosch, in a Florida state court. The league argued that Biogenesis induced players into buying prohibited PEDs, thereby breaching their employment contracts. Bosch ultimately settled with MLB and turned over materials.
While the Biogenesis scandal attracted national headlines, Miami-based DNA Sports says it was also targeted by MLB. In one lawsuit, the company asserts “MLB deployed approximately 50 investigators to the South Florida area” to uncover evidence of clinics that may be supplying PEDs to players. DNA Sports charges that it was falsely accused of selling illegal PEDs, which allegedly led “members of the baseball community and Nix’s clientele” to believe that “Nix was tied to the scandal.” Nix’s reputation, he and the clinic have argued, “was quickly tarnished.”
DNA Sports also insists that an MLB investigator threatened to use his law enforcement connections “to have Nix criminally charged for making fraudulent misrepresentations to minors.” The clinic further maintains that MLB hacked its social media accounts, among other supposed intimidation tactics.
Nix and the clinic have raised assorted causes of action, including tortious interference and unfair competition. MLB and MLBPA have sought to have Nix’s lawsuits dismissed as frivolous. They have also pursued sanctions under Rule 11, which punishes attorneys for making filings that lack a proper basis in law and fact. In 2020, a court order found one of Nix’s complaints baseless, blamed his attorneys for failing to reasonably investigate their client’s claims and ordered Nix and DNA Sports to pay the attorneys’ fees for MLB and MLBPA.
The league and union want Nix barred from continuing to file lawsuits. This is not an easy task, as Americans have a Constitutionally protected due process right to pursue claims in court. However, a federal statute, 28 U.S. Code § 1651, permits judges to issue writs that are “necessary and appropriate.” One such writ is a declaration of a litigant as “vexatious,” meaning a person whose court filings are “numerous” and “patently meritless.”
Nix has argued this designation would be inappropriate given that his lawsuits have named different defendants. Judge Alsup wasn’t convinced.
“The shuffling of parties in Mr. Nix’s various lawsuits does not save him,” the judge wrote. “His baseless lawsuits against the league, union, and other entities all concern the same core operative facts.” The judge also criticized the “substantial record of Mr. Nix’s continued abusive litigation activities both in this litigation and in other courts throughout the country,” whereby after one case is dismissed, “a new suit in a different venue with a slightly new cause of action” is initiated.
While Judge Alsup’s order is a hurdle for Nix in pursuing federal cases in San Francisco, its scope is limited to that federal district. There are 93 others across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. territories.