Court to hear oral argument in Zuffa-New York lawsuit
February 12, 2013
This Wednesday, February 13th, the Court will hear oral argument in New York’s Second Motion to Dismiss Zuffa, et al’s lawsuit against the state citing that the state’s law banning MMA is unconstitutional.
As you may recall, Zuffa sued the state of New York citing the law banning Mixed Martial Arts in the state as unconstitutional. New York dismissed two of Zuffa’s original claims of due process and equal protection in August. At that time, the Court allowed a limited motion to dismiss on just those two claims. However, Zuffa filed its First Amended Complaint which included claims of violation of due process and equal protection which it argues is based on additional facts. New York proceeded to file a Motion to Dismiss Zuffa’s entire First Amended Complaint.
While the novel issue of Zuffa’s First Amendment argument is compelling, the issue of statutory interpretation will be argued as well as Zuffa claims that New York Unconsolidated Laws, §8905-a, the MMA Ban in New York is vague and overbroad.
Here are some highlights of what will be argued:
First Amendment: In its First Amended Complaint, Zuffa contends that the ban on Mixed Martial Arts is Unconstitutional as it violates the First Amendment. In this argument, Zuffa states that entertainment before a live audience includes sporting events and that it is expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment.
Under this umbrella of argument, Zuffa contends that MMA is only barred in the state when it occurs in front of an audience. It points to other instances where MMA is practiced but not regulated by the state.
Zuffa contends that the states interests in suppressing the live performance of MMA do not satisfy the demands of the First Amendment. While Zuffa recognizes the state’s authority to regulate speech, the ban does not surpass the threshold of the First Amendment.
New York argues that Zuffa’s first hurdle is to show that MMA is speech or expressive conduct and that the First Amendment applies to it. Even if proven, New York argues that professional sports are generally not protected under the First Amendment. It argues that MMA is not expressive conduct and despite the skill shown in the Octagon, the sportsmanship during competition and post-match speeches, it does not give rise to First Amendment protection.
The New York MMA Ban is Vague and Overbroad: The statutory interpretation occurs in Zuffa’s arguments that the statute is vague and that it is overbroad. Notably, Zuffa points to questions about the enforcement (or lack thereof) of the MMA Ban. It also points to questions in the statute including: What is professional? What is a combat sport? What is martial arts? These are questions that Zuffa argues are vague in the statute while New York claims should be looked at in the plain meaning of the words and/or the statute’s legislative history for guidance on ambiguities.
Due Process and Equal Protection: Despite the dismissal of Zuffa’s causes of action for lack of due process and equal protection in its initial Complaint it has plead new allegations in its First Amended Complaint in claiming that the Ban violates Zuffa’s Due Process and Equal Protection. The major difference is it claims new, purported facts set forth by the state and that the proper standard to evaluate the Ban is strict scrutiny which is a higher standard than rational basis which was used by the Court in deciding to dismiss Zuffa’s original claims for due process and equal protection.
Wednesday will be a big day for the UFC’s chances of having an event in New York this year. While there is still a chance a resolution may occur via Albany, a legal ruling against the UFC would mean another year not in the state. It would be interesting to see if the UFC would continue on with an appeal if its lawsuit would be dismissed.
The legal battle will hinge on the Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment arguments and the interpretation of the New York statute. It’s hard to tell whether the Court’s ruling this past August (in which it dismissed two of Zuffa’s claims) would be an indication of how it may rule on the rest of the lawsuit on Wednesday.