Zuffa retains former Solicitor General for NY appeal

April 23, 2015

The legal fight in New York is not over yet. This week, the UFC announced that it has retained former U.S. Solicitor General, Paul Clement to appeal Judge Kimba Wood’s dismissal of Zuffa’s lawsuit in New York.

Via the UFC release:

The judge’s dismissal of the UFC’s case against the State of New York in March was based on a technicality, and the decision confirms the state is misapplying the law. UFC was advised by the judge to “consider filing new vagueness claims.” Wood also stated the New York Attorney General’s “recent statements that the Ban prohibits sanctioned MMA” were made “despite [the law’s] plain language to the contrary.” UFC also believes that Judge Wood erred in failing to recognize the serious First Amendment problems with the New York law.

Clement’s job as Solicitor General required him to be the representative of the federal government before the U.S. Supreme Court. He has argued over 75 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court according to his law firm bio.

If Zuffa were to appeal the judge ruling (which we should know soon), it will go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Payout Perspective:

The retention of Clement certainly means we shall see an appeal of Judge Wood’s dismissal. It appears that the appeal will encompass not only the recent dispositive motion dismissing Zuffa’s claim that the New York law is unconstitutionally vague but also the causes of action dismissed previously by Judge Wood which includes the UFC’s argument that the New York law violates the First Amendment.

Clement has had his share of sports law cases in his past including representing the NBA during labor negotiations in 2011, NFL v. Brady (which was filed during the NFL lockout in 2011) and NCAA v. Governor of New Jersey II (regarding the fight to legalize sports gambling in New Jersey).

Court to determine Wanderlei Silva fate in Nevada by May 11th

April 22, 2015

After extensive oral argument on Wednesday, a Clark County District Court will issue a ruling on or before May 11th as to whether it will uphold a lifetime ban issued by the Nevada State Athletic Commission on Wanderlei Silva.

Judge Kerry Earley heard oral arguments from Silva’s attorney Ross Goodman and Nevada Deputy Attorney General Chris Eccles arguing on behalf of the NSAC.  The petition for review was filed by Goodman on behalf of Silva who was not in attendance at Wednesday’s hearing.  It essentially appeals the NSAC ban and fine of Silva stemming from his evading a drug test in lead-up to UFC 175.

MMA Junkie’s John Morgan, who attended and tweeted the proceedings, reported that the primary question was whether the NSAC was correct to order Silva to submit to a drug test “out of competition” although he was not licensed by the state at the time.

As maintained by Goodman in his pleadings and oral argument, the NSAC does not have jurisdiction over a fighter not licensed in the state.  Therefore, it had no power to suspend or punish.

Eccles argued that Silva took part in a news conference promoting the event and was thus “an unarmed combatant and contestant who was contracted to appear in the state as such.”

While the question of the severity of the suspension was discussed, it appears that the primary issue is that of jurisdiction.

Judge Earley indicated that she wanted more time to review the relevant statutes and regulations prior to issuance of a ruling.

Payout Perspective:

As always, the issue of jurisdiction must be determined first prior to discussing the substantive merits.  This could be a case where the Court knows a wrong has occurred and wants to make sure that the right result is made.  But, how do you do it when the law is not in your favor.  The relevant statutes appear to favor Silva’s argument but the NSAC makes an artful (and maybe persuasive) argument that the law should be interpreted broadly to include Silva within the jurisdiction of Nevada.  We shall see what the Court does on May 11th.

Zuffa establishes online petition for New Yorkers

April 14, 2015

The UFC has launched an online petition to push for legalizing and regulating MMA in the state of New York. It is offering a one month free subscription to UFC Fight Pass for signing the petition.

The catch is that the one-month free subscription is only for New York residents. The launch comes with hope that this year in Albany will be different for the UFC and MMA fans. With the removal of Sheldon Silver as speaker of the Assembly, hopes look good for a potential vote on legalizing MMA in the state. As we all know, New York is the only state in the U.S. prohibiting professional MMA.

Lorenzo Fertitta spoke about the new initiative in the announcement on UFC.com:

“We wanted to create a new vehicle for these passionate New York fans to demonstrate their support for legalizing MMA in New York and use their grassroots strength to convince Members of the Assembly that they can’t wait any longer to bring the world’s fastest growing sport to the Empire State,” Fertitta said. “I’ve travelled across the state and was in Albany just last month. I constantly hear from fans eager to help and now we’ve provided a way for them to do just that.”

With Zuffa losing out on its legal battle in New York last month, it’s clear that there is much more pressure for Zuffa to score a win in the legislature.

Payout Perspective:

This is a good way for Zuffa to mobilize its support and offering Fight Pass also serves as motivation to fill out the petition. While there is no way of knowing if this type of campaign will eventually help, it’s another way for Zuffa to rally support.  We shall see if this helps drum up support.

Judge rules in New York’s favor, dismisses Zuffa lawsuit

March 31, 2015

On Tuesday, Judge Kimba Wood granted New York’s Motion for Summary Judgment and denied Zuffa’s Motion for Summary Judgment thus ending (for now) the company’s legal battle to strike down New York’s law prohibiting professional mixed martial arts in the state.

Essentially, Judge Wood stated that Zuffa lacked “standing” as a plaintiff as there was no “injury in fact” and it was “merely speculative.” Since the Court determined that there was no “imminent injury” in the evidence presented, it sided with New York. Thus the remaining claim that the New York statute was unconstitutionally vague as well as a similar challenge to the state liquor law were dismissed.

Two key points made by Judge Wood here was that Zuffa had to establish an “injury in fact.” It held that there were no “specific facts” provided by Zuffa to survive the motion for summary judgment. Secondly, the Court stressed that standing must be determined at the commencement of the suit. Essentially, the Court let it be known that anything that occurred after the filing in November 2011, could not be utilized as evidence to prove standing now.

In her opinion issued on Tuesday, she indicated that if Zuffa wants to re-file based on events that may have occurred since the lawsuit was filed in November 2011, it may be better served to do this in state court rather than federal court.

The Court did not rule on a Motion to Strike filed by New York which it sought to preclude some of Zuffa’s evidence since it already had ruled in New York’s favor.

(h/t: Jim Genia)

Payout Perspective:

We had predicted that this may have been a likely outcome. In its moving papers, New York had stressed the standing argument which would allow an “out” for the Court to dismiss the case without a further need for ruling on the merits. Yes, that’s a Zuffa view of the New York strategy (of course, a more Zuffa view would be its press release announcing the decision). It’s also a very good one and one that courts tend to look for if the issues either become convoluted, a toss-up or they just don’t think that the claims were that strong. We’re not saying any of those was the reason for the ruling Tuesday. But, standing is a necessary requirement in bringing claims. Essentially Con Law 101. But, there were legitimate arguments set forth by Zuffa which addressed the reasons why it had a right to bring the lawsuit.

At this point, it’s too early to know whether Zuffa will appeal or focus its efforts on lobbying for an MMA bill in Albany. MMA Payout will have more on this and keep you posted.

Rousey heads to Albany to lobby legalization of MMA in state

March 23, 2015

Ronda Rousey is heading to Albany to lobby the legislature for the legalization of MMA in New York this week. In addition to heading to the state capital of New York, Rousey made an appearance on “The View” on Monday as well as “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” on Monday night.

Rousey indicated to the NY Daily News that she wanted to make the trip to Albany “a priority” despite her busy schedule of promoting her upcoming movie release, “Fast & Furious 7,” as well as her August fight in Brazil against Bethe Corriea. She also stated that, “[i]t’s pretty ridiculous that MMA is not regulated here [New York].”

Rousey’s appearance on “The View” Monday morning did not mention New York but was more of a general interview in which the show aired her complete fight from UFC 184 (it was just 14 seconds). She did promote her UFC 190 fight this August against Bethe Correia.

Payout Perspective:

As is always the case, the momentum for MMA in Albany picks up steam with appearances by UFC talent, but will it mean that the bill will actually be put to a vote this year. With a new speaker in the General Assembly, and Zuffa picking up some key endorsements in the past couple weeks, this year could be different from years past. Rousey’s appearance in Albany this week will be a good source of mainstream news and perhaps grab a little more momentum for MMA’s cause in the state.

Zuffa receives support from NYSAC

March 21, 2015

Zuffa received another show of support for a law legalizing MMA in the state of New York with the New York State Association of Counties expressed its support for the bill this week according to the Auburn Citizen.

According to its web site, the NYSAC’s mission is to “represent, educate and advocate for New York counties and thousands of elected and appointed county officials who serve the public.”

The NYSAC’s executive director indicated that “legalizing MMA would generate economic for local municipalities and the state.”

This is the second endorsement of the MMA bill this year as the Business Council of New York state expressed its support for the bill in a legislative memo.

Lorenzo Fertitta acknowledged the support of NYSAC citing that its recognition of the economic potential that MMA would provide for the state.

Payout Perspective:

It appears that the UFC is receiving much more support this year from key stakeholders that it has in years past.  Perhaps the key here is the focus on the economic benefits that MMA events would provide for the state.  This would not only be the UFC, but other organizations being able to conduct MMA events all over the state.  We will continue to monitor Zuffa’s efforts in Albany this year.

Fertitta begins lobbying in Albany

March 12, 2015

MMA Fighting reports on the annual pilgrimage to Albany, New York for the UFC to lobby for the legalization of the sport in the state.  Lorenzo Fertitta has stated that if professional MMA is legalized in the state that it will show its commitment to the fans of New York through an “epic series of major events over the next three years.”

Dana White indicated in an interview on AXS TV’s “Inside MMA” last week that it has reserved Madison Square Garden in 2015.  The UFC has reserved MSG in the past with the hope that the sport would be legal but to no avail.

This legislative session Zuffa has the support of The Business Council of NYS, Inc.  The organization identified that the legislation would likely benefit its cause as many of the organization’s members are resorts and sports venues.  Many of these would benefit from the influx of legalized MMA events as one would presume promoters would seek out these venues to hold MMA in New York State.

Fertitta was in Albany on Tuesday to lobby with legislators and advocate for the passage of the MMA bill.  In an interview with the Auburn Citizen, he indicated that the UFC was “cautiously optimistic.”

The current budget proposal by the state of New York includes legalizing MMA.  There’s no guarantee that MMA will be in the final budget.

Payout Perspective:

Hope renews once again in Albany.  Will this be the year that MMA is legalized in New York?  With the legal case in New York potentially coming to a conclusion, Zuffa hopes that it will not have to depend on the ruling.  With a new speaker that has supported previous MMA legislations, we shall see this spring if MMA will come to New York this year.

Heastie picked to take over for Silver as Speaker in NY Assembly

February 6, 2015

The New York Times reported earlier this week that Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie will replace Sheldon Silver as the elected speaker of the New York Assembly.  Heastie was a co-sponsor of the bill to legalize professional MMA in the state which bodes well for a vote on the measure this legislative session.

Heastie was elected Tuesday although a planned vote was to be held on February 10th.  The Times described the alternative process in which Heastie was chosen as “backroom” and “selective and sleazy.”

Heastie keeps most of Silver’s leadership team in place but for MMA fans his ascension could be seen as a good thing.  It was thought that Silver prevented a vote on any measure which would have legalized professional MMA in the state.  Zuffa has contributed to Heastie’s campaign in the past.

Gothamist has a little more on him if you are interested.  The former accountant will be the first African American to serve as state Assembly speaker.

Payout Perspective:

Another positive sign that the legalization of professional MMA in the state could get to a vote once it passes the state senate.  We shall see what Zuffa does in terms of rallying support once again this legislative session.

Silver steps down as NY State Assembly Speaker

January 28, 2015

NY Times reports that Sheldon Silver will be replaced as speaker of the NY State Assembly and Assemblyman Joseph Morelle will become the interim speaker starting next week.  Notably, Morelle sponsored a bill that would legalize professional mixed martial arts in the state.

Notably, in the first half of January 2013, records show that Zuffa contributed $2,500 to the re-election campaign of Assemblyman Joe Morelle.  Zuffa also contributed the same amount to Joe Griffo, another New York state senator that, along with Morelle, has sponsored a bill to legalize the sport in the state.

Morelle, who is the majority leader of the state Assembly, will be one of several lawmakers vying for the permanent role of speaker.  According to Jim Genia, Morelle, Assemblyman Keith Wright, Assemblyman Joe Lentol, Assemblyman Denny Farrell and Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan are candidates for Silver’s former position.  Per Genia, Assemblywoman Nolan is the only one to come out against the sport.  The NY Times also names Assemblyman Carl Heastie as a possible contender for the speaker positions as well.  According to a report, Zuffa donated $500 to Heastie in 2013.

Payout Perspective:

The Assembly plans to elect its permanent speaker on February 10th.  The prospects look good that New York may get a speaker that has supported MMA in the past.  While this does not necessarily mean that the speaker will be able to get a law passed legalizing MMA, if a pro-MMA assembly person becomes speaker, there should not be an issue with getting a vote on a bill legalizing MMA in the state.

NYS Assembly Speaker Silver arrested on corruption charges

January 22, 2015

New York State Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges on Thursday.  The charges include mail fraud, wire fraud and extortion.  In MMA circles, the state assemblyman had been the one that prevented a vote on the legalization of MMA in the state.

The Complaint obtained by the NY Times alleges that Silver has received “more than $6 million in outside income from two law firms since late 2002.”  This includes “undisclosed bribes and kickbacks” where Silver used his position and power to “induce real estate developers with business before the State to retain and continue to use a Real Estate Law Firm controlled by an attorney who previously had worked as Silver’s counsel in the Assembly and who caused Silver to be paid for such referrals by the Real Estate Law Firm,” reads the Complaint.

UFC head Dana White has accused Silver of blocking a vote which could potentially grant the legalization of professional MMA in the state.  New York is the only state which prohibits professional MMA.

Silver had served as speaker for more than two decades.  So far, there is no clear indication as to who Silver’s successor would be.

A lawsuit is pending in which Zuffa has sued the state for its legislative ban on professional MMA.

Payout Perspective:

The news of Sheldon’s arrest could breathe new life into the annual Zuffa lobbying activities in Albany this spring.  While Sheldon’s removal from his position may not mean that New York passes legislation legalizing professional MMA in the state, it gives lobbyists new hope that they can obtain a vote in the Assembly.  This story is just getting started and MMA Payout will keep you posted.

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