The once-imposing pyramid of antitrust litigation against cheerleading juggernaut Varsity is quickly tumbling down.
On Tuesday, a federal judge dismissed a three-year-old lawsuit filed against the Bain Capital-owned corporation by a group of smaller cheer competitors. Chief U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman’s ruling did not address the merits of the litigation, but rather what she described as the plaintiff’s “reckless disregard” for procedural rules in the “tortured history of discovery in this antitrust case.”
Among multiple violations Judge Lipman cited was the plaintiffs’ production of nearly 200,000 documents months after the fact discovery deadline had passed, behavior she said “evinces a nonchalant attitude to the Court’s deadlines.”
Robert Falanga, the Atlanta-based lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said he “definitely” intends to appeal the judge’s ruling.
“My sword is chipped, and my shield is bent,” Falanga said in a statement, “but we will live to fight them on another day.”
“Varsity Brands is pleased with the court’s decision and the obvious care that the court took in examining Plaintiffs’ highly problematic discovery conduct,” Varsity spokesperson Susan Crumpton said in a statement to Sportico.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is American Spirit and Cheer Essentials, an Oklahoma-based cheerleading apparel maker. The case argued that Varsity had used its financial resources and influence over the sport’s governing bodies—USA Cheer and the U.S. All Star Federation—to illegally dominate the market and snuff out competition.
American Spirit was one of three antitrust cases filed against Varsity since 2020, each of which were being presided over by Judge Lipman in the U.S. District Court in Memphis, where Varsity is based.
In January, the company and plaintiffs in another case, Fusion Elite All Stars et al. v. Varsity, gave notice to the court that they had reached a tentative settlement agreement. The parties, which requested a stay of all deadlines in the case, have yet to present the settlement to the court.
Without the American Spirit dismissal ruling being overturned on appeal, the pending antitrust litigation against Varsity will largely be down to a single cause of action, Jones et al. v. Varsity Brands. That lawsuit represents a prospective class of cheerleading parents who have accused Varsity of driving up consumer costs through their allegedly illegal anticompetitive behavior.