Zuffa lawsuit survives in New York
October 5, 2013
Earlier this week, Judge Kimba Wood of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a 44 page opinion dismissing 6 of the 7 claims brought by Zuffa in its lawsuit against the state regarding its legislation banning professional MMA. Zuffa’s claim that the MMA regulation is unconstitutionally vague is the only claim that survived the Motion to Dismiss.
The Motion to Dismiss was filed in October of 2012 and heard in February of this year. Notably the Motion to Dismiss is based on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12 (b)(6) which allows a court to grant a party the right to dismiss claims if there is “a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In order to survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the claims “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
In this case, the Court found only Zuffa’s claim that the NY ban is unconstitutionally vague survived.
We note that the Court dismissed Zuffa’s First Amendment claim as the Court sided with New York. The Court held that the central question in determining First Amendment protection was whether the activity is primarily communicative and expressive. The Court held that MMA “lacks such essential communicative elements.” In a Footnote to the Opinion, the Court stated, “The fighters’ pre-fight and post-fight antics do not change the Court’s conclusion that the core conduct at issue – live MMA combat between professionals – does not qualify for First Amendment protection.” The Court concluded that it is MMA, not the surrounding fanfare that must convey the particularized message.
The sole claim standing after the Court’s ruling was its cause of action that the professional MMA ban in New York was unconstitutionally vague. The Court held that this claim could go forward. One of the interesting reasons was due to oral arguments of this motion in which New York’s attorney indicated that the law in question could feasibly see an exempt organization (as defined in the law) regulate pro MMA events in the state. It also did not agree with New York’s argument that the legislative history trumped the statutory language. In light of the varying interpretations of the statutory language, the Court found that Zuffa has adequately alleged its claim for vagueness.
The UFC sent out a press release stating that it was pleased with the Court ruling. It’s an interesting spin on the Court dismissing most of your case. While Zuffa left open the possibility of appealing the Court ruling related to its First Amendment claim, it would wait and see what happens to the vagueness claim.
At this point, the parties begin the discovery phase (written questions, request for production of documents, depositions) with the intent that this case move to trial. With no trial date set, this process could drag on. Furthermore, there’s nothing which would preclude New York in attempting to move for summary judgment after discovery which would again attempt to dismiss Zuffa’s claim before trial. We could also see the Court stepping in to force the parties to mediation.
Even if this case is tried and the Court strikes down the law and Zuffa wins, it still would mean that it would have to go to Albany to get professional MMA regulated within the state. Without a new law in place, New York would go unregulated. In its press release, the UFC had called for a “new law on MMA” in New York. Thus, all roads still go through Albany.
We will see what happens from here. As always, MMA Payout will keep you posted.