New York Assembly passes MMA bill

March 22, 2016

The New York State Assembly passed legislation that would legalize mixed martial arts in the state.  The bill now needs the signature of the governor for New York to be the final state to legalize MMA.

The passage comes after years and years of lobbying efforts, two lawsuits and an appeal that was set to occur next month.

The legislation came to the State Assembly for vote and after over 2 hours of assembly members having their chance to speak, the bill passed.

The green in the twitter picture indicates “Yes” votes.

The UFC issued a press release immediately after passage and will hold a press conference at 4:30pm PT Tuesday.

From the UFC press release:

UFC® Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Fertitta applauded the overwhelming, bipartisan New York State Assembly passage of legislation to legalize and regulate professional mixed martial arts (MMA) in New York. The passage of A.2604-C, sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle and 72 other Assembly sponsors, means the bill has now passed both houses and will be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his approval.

Lorenzo Fertitta thanked all in Albany that helped in the effort.

“This has been a long time coming and on behalf of our New York UFC athletes and fans, I want to offer heartfelt thanks to Speaker Heastie, Majority Leader Morelle and all the Members of the Assembly – Democrats and Republicans – who voted for this bill.”

Payout Perspective:

Perhaps the UFC press conference will reveal a date for the UFC to head to New York.  Bellator and other promotions will be able to hold events in New York as well.  The UFC indicated that it would hold an event in the state by the fall but maybe that could be moved forward depending on when the state will be able to establish its protocols for regulating MMA.

UFC issues statement on potential NY vote

March 17, 2016

The UFC has issued a statement in light of the anticipated vote in the New York State Assembly on legalizing mixed martial arts in the state.

The statement on UFC.com is from UFC Vice President of Global Business Development and Government Relations Michael J. Britt.

“We want to thank Speaker Heastie and of course we also need to thank Majority Leader Morelle, who has worked tirelessly to educate his colleagues and build support on both sides of the aisle, but particularly among Assembly Democrats.  Our thanks, as well, go to those legislators in both houses and both parties who have supported this effort over the years.

“This is a big step forward for MMA, the athletes and the huge fan base the sport enjoys in New York, however, there are still more steps before New York finally crosses the hurdle to legalize professional MMA.  We look forward to working with the chairs of the committees and all Assembly members to provide them with any information they may need as they address the bill to legalize and regulate MMA.”

Payout Perspective:

Cautious optimism from the UFC as we’ve heard many times the efforts to legalize MMA in the state would happen only to be disappointed in the end.  We shall see what transpires next week and whether or not there will be opposition.

Vote on MMA Bill in NY Assembly next week

March 16, 2016

Newsday reports that there will be a vote in the New York State Assembly on the possibility of legalizing mixed martial arts in the state.  The vote could possibly bring an end to a long battle to legalize the sport in the state.

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie indicated that the vote should occur next week.  Allowing such a vote likely means that there is a sufficient amount of votes for passage.  After the measure passes, it will only need the governor’s signature to enact the bill.  In all likelihood Governor Andrew Cuomo should sign off on a bill that crosses his desk.  His office included MMA revenue in an executive budget proposal earlier this year.

According to the Newsday article, the bill to legalize MMA in the state needs a simple majority of 76 votes to pass.

Once passage occurs, the New York State Athletic Commission will have 120 days to adopt guidelines and regulations for use as the sanctioning body.

The UFC reserved a date this fall for an event under the assumption that MMA would be legal in New York either through passage of legislation or via an injunction related to a lawsuit filed this past September.  In addition, there is an appeal related to its November 2011 lawsuit against the state to overturn the current law prohibiting MMA in the state.  Oral argument on the appeal is set to be heard before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals next month.

Payout Perspective:

There is a bit of apprehension from many that have heard that MMA will be legal in the state and then it does not happen.  From all reports, a vote in the Assembly should finally put the rest the fight to legalize the sport in the state.  Of course, we have not heard from the opposition which includes, in part, the Culinary Union.  We shall see if they will make one final push to oppose the bill or have they just given up on the effort.

Judge denies UFC’s Preliminary Injunction to hold UFC 198 at MSG

January 25, 2016

Judge Kimba Wood has denied the UFC’s request for a Preliminary Junction which would have allowed UFC 198 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.  The UFC will either appeal the ruling and/or seek another venue for UFC 198.

In denying the Preliminary Injunction, Judge Wood cited the Pullman doctrine, a legal case which dictates that a federal court must abstain from ruling on a state court law until that state court had a chance to adjudicate the matter.

The court indicated it would issue a longer opinion, but the one issued today is below:

Zuffa PI – Court Denies PI by JASONCRUZ206

The New York Attorney General cited this argument when it filed its opposition to the Preliminary Injunction.

Via our December post regarding the Pullman doctrine:

New York also claims that the U.S. District Court should abstain under the Pullman doctrine.  Under this case, where a state law is allegedly vague, a federal court should abstain from interpreting the law until the state courts have a reasonable opportunity to construe the statute.

Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co. is a 1941 U.S. Supreme Court Case which dictates that a federal court should stay (i.e., hold off on deciding) a decision on state law when the state court has yet to interpret.  It bases the decision on three factors:

  1. The case presents both state grounds and federal constitutional grounds for relief;
  2. The proper resolution of the state ground for the decision is unclear; and
  3. The disposition of the state ground could obviate the need for adjudication of the federal constitutional ground.

Frankly, the UFC should have saw this coming as Judge Wood indicated a state court might be a better venue for its claims.  She wrote this in her concluding order dismissing the UFC’s original lawsuit against the state:

Kimba Wood opinion

Payout Perspective:

Earlier in the day, we wrote about New York’s response to the UFC’s demand for an order by today.  Looks like the UFC got what it wanted so to speak.  The UFC may appeal the ruling which would mean that the UFC could have two appeals in the Second Circuit related to legalizing the sport in the state.  The other avenue to legalization in New York, is of course, through the legislative process.  We will see what the UFC’s decides to do at this point.  As for UFC 198, it looks like that the UFC will need to find another venue outside of New York.

 

New York AG responds to UFC request for PI ruling

January 25, 2016

Monday is the deadline set by the UFC in its hopes to obtain a ruling on its Preliminary Injunction to hold UFC 198 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.  It had requested that Judge Kimba Wood rule on the issue lest they need to move the event for marketing and event planning reasons.  New York offered its response to the alleged deadline in a letter to Judge Kimba Wood.

The Office of the Attorney General for the State of New York responded to the letter from the UFC to the court in which the company requested a ruling on the preliminary injunction.  In a January 20, 2016 letter, the New York AG issued its response to the UFC request.  New York argues that moving the April 23, 2016 event reveals that the UFC could have scheduled the event at a later date.  This, according to New York’s contention, means that the UFC “can mitigate if not eliminate the alleged “irreparable” harm it says it will suffer from not holding events in New York.”  Thus, New York argues to the court that the UFC letter “adds nothing to, and indeed detracts” from the UFC’s preliminary injunction request.

New York PI – Letter From NY Respondijng to Zuffa Letter

Payout Perspective:

Perhaps a moot point for the hoped UFC 198 at MSG as the UFC intends to seek another venue if there is no ruling by today (Monday, January 25th).  But, the New York letter offers some legal strategy.  By requesting a ruling from the court and issuing a tacit ultimatum, the UFC indicated that it would move its April event if a ruling had not been issued by today.  Since there appears to be no ruling, it is moving the event to another venue outside of New York.  Capitalizing on this move, New York argues that since the UFC is moving the event, there is no “irreparable harm,” an argument needed to prove a preliminary injunction is warranted.  New York will likely bring this letter up again in later arguments for a PI by the UFC citing that there is no immediate harm to the company as there are comparable alternatives to holding an event in New York.  We shall see if there will be an official statement from the UFC this week about the venue for UFC 198.

UFC request court ruling on PI by Monday or will move UFC 198 out of New York

January 20, 2016

Attorneys for the UFC have issued a letter to Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York requesting a ruling on its Preliminary Injunction request which would grant the company to hold a UFC event at Madison Square Garden in April.

Citing its need to market and plan the event, it is requesting that the Court issue a ruling by January 25.  Previously, the UFC had requested oral argument on the matter to argue its Preliminary Injunction request and the opposition filed by New York.

New York PI – Letter From Zuffa Requesting Ruling by 1.25 by JASONCRUZ206

The UFC stated that if no ruling, even a limited order enjoining the Attorney General from interfering with the scheduled event, is determined by January 25th, it will “lock in and market an event outside New York for its April 23rd event.”  They indicate that they would try again in the fall and amend its Preliminary Injunction motion papers to reflect the new date.

Payout Perspective:

You may recall that New York was granted two extensions to file opposition to the Preliminary Injunction.  Zuffa had requested oral argument but the court had not issued a ruling as to whether it would agree to give Zuffa court time to do so.  Courts may issue rulings based on the court filings and not need the parties to argue the matter.  Parties must request time to argue if they feel compelled to do so.

Courts usually do not like ultimatums issued to them.  Despite the UFC’s need (legitimate or not) to have a ruling soon to determine to plan and market for April, Courts will not succumb to this tactic.  We will see if Judge Wood will have something to the parties by this Monday.

15 for 15: No. 7 – UFC’s legal battle in New York

December 27, 2015

The lawsuit filed by the UFC, its contracted fighters and others seeking to overturn the law prohibiting MMA in the state seemingly came to an end in March when Judge Kimba Wood dismissed the remaining claims against the state of New York.  However, that was not it for the legal maneuverings for the UFC in the state.

The UFC subsequently appealed the decision and retained former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement and his firm to handle the appeal before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Clement also is known as the attorney working on the NFL Deflategate litigation.

Last month, the state of New York filed its response to the UFC’s appeal brief.  The UFC filed its reply and requested oral argument.  If granted, the oral argument should take place sometime in 2016.

The issues in question deal with whether the law banning pro MMA in the state violates the First Amendment and whether the law is unconstitutionally vague.  The First Amendment issue presents an interesting issue as we have delved into its implications.

Not only does the UFC have an appeal, in September in filed another lawsuit in federal court in New York seeking an injunction to hold an event in New York’s Madison Square Garden this April.  The new lawsuit takes heed to the words written by Judge Wood in its opinion dismissing the original lawsuit earlier in the year.

Kimba Wood opinion

The one issue which has been brought up during the litigation by the state of New York was that the case should be decided by a state court.  The state of New York does not buy the UFC’s argument that it would be harmed if it does not hold UFC 198 at MSG.  Rather, it states that the UFC still does not have legal “standing” in the state even though it has signed a “conditional agreement” with MSG.  Among its arguments opposing the grant of a preliminary injunction, New York argues that a state court should decide the law regarding the constitutionality of the law.  It also claims that the deposit for MSG would be refunded to the UFC if it coincided with an NBA or NHL playoff game stating that the Knicks or Rangers would trump the UFC event.

The lawsuit filed this past September by the UFC requests a preliminary injunction which would allow for the UFC to hold an event in New York despite the existing law preventing pro MMA in the state.

In 2016, we should see a resolution to the preliminary injunction and whether or not UFC 198 will be in Madison Square Garden or not.

15 for 15: No. 12 – MMA Bill fails again in New York

December 21, 2015

In what many thought would be the year, a bill which would legalize mixed martial arts in the state of New York did not make it to a vote in the state Assembly in Albany.

There was more hope this year for a law in the state with the removal of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.  Silver was arrested on federal corruption charges in January as he allegedly received “more than $6 million in outside income from two law firms since late 2002” as a result of kickbacks per the Complaint filed against him.  Many, including UFC head Dana White, accused Silver of blocking a vote in the Assembly.  Silver stepped down from his post in the Assembly in late January and was replaced with Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie.  In the past, Zuffa had contributed to Heastie’s campaign so there was a feeling that this year would be different.

MMA Payout spoke with Jim Genia prior to the Assembly calendar ending.

Even with a concerted effort to attempt to push the bill through once again which included revamping the bill to appease legislators, it fell short of a vote.  This, despite extra days extending the Assembly calendar.

This year’s UFC lobbying included Ronda Rousey meeting with the Governor Cuomo and Zuffa establishing an online petition for New Yorkers in which residents of New York that signed up would receive a free one-month subscription of Fight Pass.  It didn’t work.

If a preliminary injunction is not granted by a federal court in New York, UFC 198 set for Madison Square Garden in April 2016 will not occur.  With an appeal of the UFC’s original lawsuit still pending oral argument before the Second Circuit, the best way for the UFC to appear in New York (legally) would be via legislation.  While there are already pro-MMA rallies in the state, is there anything that the UFC could do differently this year that could see a law actually get to a vote in the state Assembly?

New York files opposition to UFC’s Preliminary Injunction

December 12, 2015

Last week, New York filed its opposition to the UFC’s request for a preliminary injunction to allow the organization to hold an event in the state in April 2016.  The briefing cites legal authority opposing the injunction in preventing UFC 198 in New York’s Madison Square Garden.  New York cites the UFC-MSG “conditional agreement” which purportedly states that MSG may cancel the event if the NBA or NHL Playoffs conflict with the night of the intended UFC PPV as a showing that there is no imminent threat of harm to the company.

The filing comes after two continued due dates requested by the state of New York.

In its brief, New York argues that as a “threshold matter” the UFC lacks standing which precludes a Court from deciding an issue where a party has no injury.

New York argues that the UFC’s reliance on the conditional agreement with MSG for an event on April 23, 2016 does not establish standing.  Moreover, New York argues that if there is no injunction granted, there is no event in MSG and no “imminent threat of prosecution.”  Although the UFC contends that it has made a deposit for the event at MSG (reported at $25,000), New York argues that MSG may elect to return it.

According to New York’s brief, MSG may elect to return the deposit of the UFC if the NBA and/or NHL playoffs conflict with the Saturday, April 23, 2016 event date.  MSG, the primary venue for the Knicks of the NBA and the Rangers of the NHL are anchor tenants of the building.  If either or both teams are in the playoffs, they get primary rights to the building per New York’s brief.

New York has several arguments against the UFC preliminary injunction:

-As stated above, New York argues that the UFC lacks standing as it asserts that there will be no event without the injunction.  Without the injunction, MSG has the right to terminate the agreement.  It also argues that the economic injury is speculative.

-It also argues that the local district attorneys for the state of New York are not parties to the lawsuit.  The state has a right to enforce the New York ban on MMA and since they are a non-party, they would not be bound by the preliminary injunction.  Hence, the drawback of filing in federal court.

-New York also argues that the claims are not “ripe” for adjudication.  Essentially, New York states that the state AG nor the athletic commission have issued a cease and desist letter to the UFC regarding holding an event in New York.  Thus, it claims that the UFC cannot claim a “credible, imminent threat of prosecution” which is a requirement for a court to grant an injunction.

New York also claims that the U.S. District Court should abstain under the Pullman doctrine.  Under this case, where a state law is allegedly vague, a federal court should abstain from interpreting the law until the state courts have a reasonable opportunity to construe the statute.

Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co. is a 1941 U.S. Supreme Court Case which dictates that a federal court should stay (i.e., hold off on deciding) a decision on state law when the state court has yet to interpret.  It bases the decision on three factors:

  1. The case presents both state grounds and federal constitutional grounds for relief;
  2. The proper resolution of the state ground for the decision is unclear; and
  3. The disposition of the state ground could obviate the need for adjudication of the federal constitutional ground.

In addition to these arguments, New York attacks the UFC’s argument for a preliminary injunction.  Among its arguments against granting the injunction, New York claims that “[s]elf-inflicted harm cannot form the basis for injunctive relief.”  Specifically, entering an agreement with MSG to hold an event in April 2016 cannot be cause to grant the injunction.

Payout Perspective:

The UFC will have the opportunity to file a reply brief to oppose New York’s argument.  Notably, the Pullman doctrine which states that a federal court should abstain until a state court clarifies the allegedly vague could be the reason why Judge Wood stated in her March 2015 order dismissing Zuffa’s first lawsuit that they might want to refile in state court.

Under the Pullman doctrine, New York claims the court need not address the constitutional claim asserted by Zuffa that the ban on MMA in New York is vague.  Rather, it can wait until a New York state court interprets the state law.  Thus, the constitutional claim might be clarified by the state court and thus the federal court need not intervene.

The argument that the NBA or NHL might cancel a possible UFC event seems unlikely.  Usually venues have reserved dates for the NBA and NHL playoffs well in advance (that is, prior to the start of the 2015-2016 season).  Thus, MSG knew before the UFC asked for April 23, 2016 that it might conflict.  But, there are always work-arounds for this.  The games could be played earlier in the game.  Moreover, MSG should have contingent plans as the NBA and NHL have been juggling schedules for decades.

New York granted second extension to respond to Zuffa Preliminary Injunction

November 16, 2015

Judge Kimba Wood has granted the state of New York an extension of time to respond to Zuffa’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction which would allow a UFC event scheduled for April 23, 2016 at Madison Square Garden.  In response, attorneys for Zuffa have expressed concern that the delay may impact the event.

In a letter submitted on November 6th, John Schwartz, Special Litigation Counsel for New York, indicated that due to health issues experienced by his wife, he could not respond to the motion which opposition was due on Friday, November 13th.  It was noted that the second extension was not anticipated.  Schwartz also indicated that he did not believe Zuffa would be prejudiced by this delay.  New York will now have until December 4, 2016 to respond to Zuffa’s motion and Zuffa will have until December 14, 2016 to file a reply.

Letter From Plaintiffs Re 2nd Extension of Time by JASONCRUZ206

Judge Wood granted the request filed by counsel for New York last week.

In a letter dated November 7th, Jamie Levitt, attorney for Zuffa “reminded” the court that this was the second extension request to respond to Zuffa’s lawsuit filed on September 28th  The first was stipulated by the parties on October 9th.  The second, granted by Judge Wood, is due to an illness of the wife of the attorney heading the litigation for this case.  Levitt expressed the concern that the delay in the decision of the Preliminary Injunction may impact the April 23, 2016 event scheduled for UFC.

Letter From Plaintiffs Re 2nd Extension of Time

“The briefing schedule [for the Preliminary Injunction] was carefully negotiated by the parties to ensure that despite Defendants’ [first] extension, the Court would have sufficient time to consider and rule on Plaintiff’s motion by January 2016,” wrote Levitt.  “A ruling after January 2016 would not provide the UFC and MSG sufficient time to finalize and then market the scheduled April event.”

Levitt explains that the MSG licensing agreement and the sanctioning of the event cannot be easily rescheduled.  There was no indication of when another date might be secured for MSG.

Payout Perspective:

This is a delicate situation since it involves a personal health issue.  Zuffa had no grounds to oppose this request without looking totally heartless.  It would be clear that the court would have granted this request.  The unexpected delay may definitely impact an event in April if the court does not decide by the beginning of the year.  With the holidays upcoming, it is hard to say when a ruling might occur.  The Levitt letter puts the court on notice of the injury it may suffer if a decision is not made soon.  While New York argues that moving the date to another time would resolve the issue, it’s clear the UFC has banked on this date.  MMA Payout will keep you posted.

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