The now multi-court battle between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour is currently scheduled for trial on May 17, 2024, but a crucial debate over whether LIV’s backers in Saudi Arabia must comply with subpoenas could trigger a lengthy postponement.
On Thursday, attorneys for the PGA Tour filed a brief demanding that the Public Investment
Fund of Saudi Arabia (“PIF”) and its governor, Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan, comply with pretrial discovery orders and appear in New York City for questioning under oath. If they aren’t ordered to comply, the PGA Tour requests that Judge Beth Labson Freeman postpone all discovery in the case pending the outcome of PIF and Al-Rumayyan’s appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
PIF and Al-Rumayyan’s appeal could take several years and well past the current trial date. PIF and Al-Rumayyan argue that as officials from a foreign government, they shouldn’t have to comply with subpoenas in U.S. litigation. Freeman rejected that argument in a recent ruling, reasoning that PIF and Al-Rumayyan’s involvement with LIV is more of a business than government function.
The PGA Tour offers several arguments for why the case should not proceed with what it terms “one-sided discovery.” By that phrase, the PGA Tour means its executives and staff would have to answer questions posed by LIV attorneys under oath and share sensitive emails while PIF and Al-Rumayyan would be exempt from that scrutiny pending an appeal that could take years.
The PGA Tour stresses that although the litigation now involves counterclaims, LIV, through a dozen golfers, started the dispute by suing the PGA Tour last year. The elder golf league insists it would be unjust and asymmetrical for attorneys representing LIV, PIF and Al-Rumayyan to conduct depositions of PGA Tour officials and prepare expert reports while the PGA Tour can’t question “LIV’s founders, owners, most senior decision makers, and … the true moving force behind this litigation” about sources of funding and other topics central to the case.
Attorneys for LIV and those for PIF and Al-Rumayyan insist their clients are separate parties and that the PGA Tour should not conflate them. LIV maintains that time is of the essence in its ability to effectively compete with the PGA Tour in recruiting elite golfers.
A trial that doesn’t occur for several years would mean that the PGA Tour and LIV could continue to require their golfers to pick one league or the other but not both.
A trial would also be followed by appeals, including to the Supreme Court, that would extend the timeline by additional years.