Judge Disregards 11th Cir, Allows Baseball Antitrust Lawsuit

By William Peacock, Esq. on April 10, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Perhaps the oddest thing about the American legal system is the separate state, federal, and administrative courts. The law in federal court can be completely different than the law in the state courthouse next door. And on that same note, an antitrust lawsuit that would be a guaranteed failure in federal court might have a fighting chance in a Florida state court.

Major League Baseball's antitrust exemption is common knowledge by now. In 1922, the Supreme Court declared baseball a game, not a business, and therefore exempt from antitrust provisions. In 1953, SCOTUS compounded the error by upholding their prior ruling, citing Congress' inaction to remedy the problem as justification for continuing preferential treatment. Nearly 20 years later, Justice Blackmun wrote an odd ode to baseball in another upholding of the exemption, this time justified by stare decisis.

It should be clear then, that baseball, unlike any other professional sport or business, is exempt from antitrust litigation.

Unless that suit is filed in Florida, that is.

Jim Evans ran an academy in Florida that trained Minor League Baseball umpires - more than half of MiLB's umpires in fact. However, in 2011, MiLB jumped into the game by starting their own umpire academy, reports Reuters. In February 2012, MiLB informed Evans that they would no longer be accepting his graduates.

Of course, MiLB officials claim they aren't doing it for business reasons. They received a complaint from a black employee of Evans' school who claimed that there were offensive t-shirts worn to an Evans Academy bowling party. Evans calls this a "pretext for the league to shut down a competitor" and claims that no one took offense to the shirts at the time.

Pretext or anticompetitive behavior, this lawsuit would have had no chance in federal court. Florida, however, has a 19-year-old state Supreme Court decision that limits the application of the anti-trust exemption to the player reserve system - the mechanism used to tie players to teams, even without contracts. Of course, now, the reserve system has been supplanted by free agency via collective bargaining. For business aspects of the sport, anti-trust laws still apply (at least in Florida).

Applying the state court's decision to Evans' lawsuit, Judge Lisa T. Munyon stated:

It is not within this court's prerogative to disagree with the holdings of superior state courts." She also wrote that she should not "blindly follow the opinions of lower federal courts, when the Florida court believes the federal decisions to be poorly reasoned.

That "lower federal court" that she refers to? The Eleventh Circuit, which held that the antitrust exemption does apply to the business of baseball.

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