In a victory for Madison Square Garden’s desire to exclude certain people from its events, a New York appeals court on Tuesday ruled that MSG can deny entry to a person who presents a valid ticket to a theatrical performance or a musical concert. But per the ruling, which does not apply to Knicks or Rangers games, MSG might have to pay up to $500 to each person denied.
The ruling in the case, brought by attorney Larry Hutcher and more than 50 others, is the latest development in a feud over MSG’s admissions policies.
Hutcher, a Knicks season ticket holder for more than 40 years, is banned from entering MSG because he represents ticket resellers in a separate lawsuit over their Knicks and Rangers season tickets not being renewed. Hutcher, who was spotted by facial recognition technology at MSG, has been told he can’t enter MSG until the litigation is resolved.
Last November, Judge Frank Lyle granted a motion for a preliminary injunction against MSG on grounds that New York civil rights law requires a venue to admit entry to a person if they present valid tickets and adhere to the facility’s code of conduct. The civil rights law in question does not apply to sporting events; it governs a set of specific events that fall outside of athletic contests, namely “legitimate theatres, burlesque theatres, music halls, opera houses, concert halls and circuses.”
Both the trial and appellate court reasoned that although MSG is a multi-purpose venue which functions as a sports arena when Knicks, Rangers and college basketball games are played, the civil rights law only applies when MSG is used “for an enumerated purpose” contemplated by that law.
The appellate court reasoned that Judge Lyle erred in his choice of remedy. The civil rights law contemplates monetary damages of up to $500 and, the appellate court found, does not authorize an injunction. Even if an injunction were possible, it would likely be denied, the court explained. Injunctions ordinarily require a finding of “irreparable harm”—harm that money damages can’t remedy—whereas here, the law contemplates damages of up to $500. In other words, MSG can deny entry to a person with a valid ticket but may have to pay them up to $500.
MSG has argued it is a “bedrock law in New York” that private entertainment venue operators fully control access to their premises. MSG notes that tickets are revocable licenses and cites case law supporting the proposition that revocation can occur under terms determined by those operators.