Over a year later, Judge Boulware publishes opinion in Zuffa’s Motion to Dismiss

October 24, 2016

Judge Richard Boulware has filed his Order on Zuffa’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint in the antitrust lawsuit venued in Nevada.  The hearing was on September 25, 2015.  The order was finally entered on October 19, 2016.

Talk about a backlog of work for a federal judge.  But, from my understanding, this is typical for federal courts.

As we know, the judge denied Zuffa’s Motion to Dismiss although the written order was signed and dated over a year later by Judge Boulware.

The opinion denying the Motion to Dismiss is below:

Order on Zuffa’s Motion to Dismiss by JASONCRUZ206 on Scribd

Some notable issues in the Order.

Zuffa had the burden to prove that the Plaintiffs had no case since they brought the motion.  Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court may dismiss a complaint as a matter of law (1) for lack of a cognizable legal theory or (2) insufficient facts under a cognizable claim.  The standard under Federal Rule 12(b)(6), it may dismiss a complaint for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

The court looked at the main arguments set forth by Zuffa in its opinion.

  1. Strong Competition v. Antitrust Violation

This argument was quickly dismissed by the court.  Essentially Zuffa argued that its business practices are examples of “strong competition” whereas Plaintiffs argue that Zuffa’s conduct “has foreclosed competition and thereby enhanced and maintained the UFC’s monopoly power in the Relevant Output Market and monopsony power in the Relevant Input Market.”  For purposes of meeting the threshold to satisfy a motion to dismiss, the Court sided with Plaintiffs.

  1. Properly Defined Relevant Markets

The court looked at whether the plaintiffs properly defined a “relevant market.”  Plaintiffs identified two relevant markets: 1) live Elite Professional MMA bouts (Relevant Output Market), and…live Elite Professional MMA Fighter services (the ‘Relevant Input Market’).  Zuffa claimed that these definitions were made solely for the purpose of litigation and that they were vague and subjective.

However, the Court sides with the Plaintiffs for purposes of this motion to dismiss.  The Court noted that the validity of the ‘relevant market’ is typically a factually element and not a legal element.  Remember, here the Court is looking at whether the lawsuit can be dismissed as a matter of law.  As the court notes the market may survive an initial scrutiny under the motion to dismiss, but may not under a motion for summary judgment or at trial.  But, the Court found that the Plaintiffs’ relevant market is sufficient for “Section 2” antitrust purposes

  1. Specificity of Anticompetitive Conduct

Zuffa argued that exclusive dealing arrangements are common, procompetitive and a part of sports and entertainment, Plaintiffs failed to allege specific facts showing that the exclusive arrangements foreclosed competition in either the input or output market and the UFC has no duty to deal with competitors.

The Court did not address the last argument (dealing with competitors) as it did not construe the complaint that it had to deal with competitors.

The Court does side with Plaintiffs in finding that its allegations that exclusive dealing arrangements are a part of the anticompetitive scheme.  It also dismisses the argument that Plaintiffs’ claims are a “monopoly broth” – the term given to the use of various allegations to satisfy an antitrust scheme.

  1. Ancillary Rights and Reduced Competition

The Court looked at the rights issue related to fighters signing off on their likenesses for purposes of Zuffa using for things such as video games.  Here, the Court utilized the same analysis as it did with the exclusive dealing contracts in finding that Plaintiffs pled sufficient facts to show an anti-competitive scheme.  Once again, the Court is not ruling on the actual evidence, but whether the Complaint states a sufficient amount of facts.

Payout Perspective:

The Motion to Dismiss should not be taken as a commentary on the strengths or weaknesses of Plaintiffs’ Complaint as a whole.  It is only a ruling on whether or not the Complaint was sufficient to past standards required by the rules under 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  It was Zuffa’s burden to carry in order to prove that the Complaint could not pat muster.  The Judge, weighing the evidence in light of the rules, determined that the Plaintiffs had pled a sufficient amount for the case to go forward.  If this case goes to trial, the Plaintiffs would have to prove the claims in its Complaint.  Zuffa will likely bring a Motion for Summary Judgment after the discovery stage ends.  Essentially, it is similar to the Motion to Dismiss but would argue that none of the facts would support the claims and as a result, the lawsuit should be dismissed prior to trial.  Of course, discovery is ongoing so we shall see if there are facts that have been uncovered which would strengthen either party’s case.

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