860 F.3d 1237 (9th Cir. 2017), 15-16938, Miranda v. Selig

Docket Nº:15-16938
Citation:860 F.3d 1237
Opinion Judge:Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge:
Party Name:SERGIO MIRANDA; JEFFREY DOMINGUEZ; JORGE PADILLA; and CIRILO CRUZ, Individually and on Behalf of All Those Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. ALLAN HUBER SELIG, Bud; KANSAS CITY ROYALS BASEBALL CORP.; MIAMI MARLINS, L.P.; SAN FRANCISCO BASEBALL ASSOCIATES, LLC; BOSTON RED SOX BASEBALL CLUB L.P.; ANGELS BASEBALL L.P.; CHICAGO WHITE SO...
Attorney:Samuel Kornhauser (argued) and David Truong, Law Offices of Samuel Kornhauser, San Francisco, California; Brian David, Law Offices of Brian David, Chicago, Illinois; for Plaintiffs-Appellants. John W. Keker (argued), David J. Rosen, Thomas E. Gorman, and R. Adam Lauridsen, Keker & Van Nest LLP, S...
Judge Panel:Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and Ferdinand F. Fernandez and Mary H. Murguia, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:June 26, 2017
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1237

860 F.3d 1237 (9th Cir. 2017)

SERGIO MIRANDA; JEFFREY DOMINGUEZ; JORGE PADILLA; and CIRILO CRUZ, Individually and on Behalf of All Those Similarly Situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

ALLAN HUBER SELIG, Bud; KANSAS CITY ROYALS BASEBALL CORP.; MIAMI MARLINS, L.P.; SAN FRANCISCO BASEBALL ASSOCIATES, LLC; BOSTON RED SOX BASEBALL CLUB L.P.; ANGELS BASEBALL L.P.; CHICAGO WHITE SOX LTD.; ST. LOUIS CARDINALS, LLC; COLORADO ROCKIES BASEBALL CLUB, LTD.; BASEBALL CLUB OF SEATTLE, LLP; CINCINNATI REDS, LLC; HOUSTON BASEBALL PARTNERS, LLC; ATHLETICS INVESTMENT GROUP, LLC; ROGERS BLUE JAYS BASEBALL PARTNERSHIP; CLEVELAND INDIANS BASEBALL CO., L.P.; CLEVELAND INDIANS BASEBALL CO., INC.; PADRES L.P.; SAN DIEGO PADRES BASEBALL CLUB, L.P.; MINNESOTA TWINS, LLC; WASHINGTON NATIONALS BASEBALL CLUB, LLC; DETROIT TIGERS, INC.; LOS ANGELES DODGERS HOLDING CO.; STERLING METS L.P.; ATLANTA NATIONAL LEAGUE BASEBALL CLUB, INC.; AZPB L.P.; BALTIMORE ORIOLES, INC.; BALTIMORE ORIOLES, L.P.; PHILLIES L.P.; PITTSBURGH BASEBALL, INC.; PITTSBURGH BASEBALL P'SHIP; NEW YORK YANKEES P'SHIP; TAMPA BAY RAYS BASEBALL LTD.; RANGERS BASEBALL EXPRESS, LLC; RANGERS BASEBALL, LLC; CHICAGO BASEBALL HOLDINGS, LLC; MILWAUKEE BREWERS BASEBALL CLUB, INC.; MILWAUKEE BREWERS BASEBALL CLUB, L.P.; OFFICE OF COMMISSIONER OF BASEBALL, DBA Major League Baseball; LOS ANGELES DODGERS, LLC, Defendants-Appellees

No. 15-16938

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

June 26, 2017

Argued and Submitted, San Francisco, California April 18, 2017.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. D.C. No. 3:14-cv-05349-HSG. Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[*]

Antitrust

Affirming the district court's dismissal of an antitrust suit brought by minor league baseball players, the panel held that professional minor league baseball is exempt from federal antitrust laws.

The panel concluded that because it was bound by Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent upholding the business of baseball's exemption from federal antitrust laws, and because Congress explicitly exempted minor league baseball in the Curt Flood Act of 1998, the players failed to state an antitrust claim.

Samuel Kornhauser (argued) and David Truong, Law Offices of Samuel Kornhauser, San Francisco, California; Brian David, Law Offices of Brian David, Chicago, Illinois; for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

John W. Keker (argued), David J. Rosen, Thomas E. Gorman, and R. Adam Lauridsen, Keker & Van Nest LLP, San Francisco, California, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge, and Ferdinand F. Fernandez and Mary H. Murguia, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Sidney R. Thomas, Chief Judge:

In this case we consider whether professional minor league baseball is exempt from federal antitrust law. Applying controlling precedent, we hold that it is, and we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I

Major League Baseball (" MLB" ) is an unincorporated association consisting of thirty MLB franchises, also known as clubs or teams. Each franchise employs approximately forty baseball players on its " 40-man roster," with up to twenty-five players on its " active roster," who play at the major league level. As part of MLB's " farm system," each franchise also employs 150 to 250 players who compete at the minor league level. MLB franchises employ a high number of minor league players hoping that a handful will develop into major league players. Therefore, though minor league players train and play for minor league clubs, they are nonetheless employed by an MLB club.

MLB requires all franchises to use its Uniform Player Contract (" the Contract" ) when hiring minor league players. Any change to the Contract terms requires permission from the MLB Commissioner. Once completed, all Contracts are filed with the MLB Commissioner for approval. Under the Contract's so-called " reserve clause," MLB franchises receive exclusive rights to their minor league players for seven championship seasons, approximately seven years. This provision precludes players from playing for any other baseball team during the contract period, whether or not the team is an MLB franchise. However, MLB franchises have the power to transfer amongst themselves their exclusive rights to a player at the end of each contract season.

The Contract sets forth minor league players' first-season monthly salary rate. For each subsequent season, players and clubs are supposed to negotiate a monthly salary. If a player and club are unable to reach an agreement, the monthly salary rate is determined in the same manner as the first-season salary. Unlike major league baseball players, minor league players do not belong to a labor union and therefore must engage in negotiations independently.

Although MLB's salary guidelines are not publicly available, the plaintiffs, a class of minor league baseball players (" the Players" ) allege MLB requires that all first-year minor league players earn $1,100 per month, Class-A minor league players earn $1,250 per month, Class-AA minor league players earn $1,500 per month, and Class-AAA minor league players earn $2,150 per month. The Players allege that most minor league players earn less than $7,500 per year, with some earning as little as $3,000. Minor league players receive no salary for spring training, during which they work fifty to sixty hours per week.

II

On February 5, 2015, the Players filed a complaint against the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, former Commissioner Allan Huber " Bud" Selig, and MLB's thirty franchises (collectively, " the Owners" ). Each class representative played minor league baseball at some point between 2010 and 2012. While employed as minor league players, the class representatives worked an average of fifty to sixty hours per week and earned less than $10,000 per year. Seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages, the Players allege that MLB's hiring and employment policies have violated federal antitrust laws by " restrain[ing] horizontal competition between and among" the MLB franchises and " artificially and illegally depressing" minor league salaries.

The Owners filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that the business of baseball has long been exempt from federal antitrust laws, and Congress specifically declined to take minor league baseball out of the scope of the exemption. The district court granted the Owners' motion to dismiss and the Players timely appealed.

III

We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we review the district court's order de novo. See, e.g.,

ESG Capital Partners, LP v. Stratos, 828 F.3d 1023, 1029, 1031 (9th Cir. 2016). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a plaintiff must raise sufficient factual allegations, accepted as true, to " state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Because we are bound by Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent upholding the business of baseball's exemption from federal antitrust laws, and because Congress explicitly exempted minor league baseball in the Curt Flood Act of 1998, the Players have not " state[d] a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. We affirm.

A

The business-of-baseball exemption is best understood within its historical context. In 1890, Congress passed the Sherman Act " to protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies." Sherman Act, ch. 647, 26 Stat. 209 (1890). Under the Sherman Act, " [e]very contract . . . in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal." 15 U.S.C. § 1. It is also a felony under the Sherman Act to " monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations." 15 U.S.C. § 2. In 1914, Congress passed the Clayton Act to supplement existing federal antitrust law. Clayton Act, ch. 323, 38 Stat. 731 (1914). Section 4 of the Clayton Act establishes that those injured " by reason of anything forbidden in the antitrust laws may sue" in federal district court. 15 U.S.C. § 15(a).

The Supreme Court first exempted the business of baseball from these federal antitrust laws almost a century ago in Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, 259 U.S. 200, 42 S.Ct. 465, 66 L.Ed. 898, 20 Ohio L.Rep. 211 (1922). In Federal Baseball, the Supreme Court held that the business of baseball does not constitute " trade or commerce among the several States," 15 U.S.C. § 1, and therefore is not bound by antitrust laws, because the " business is giving exhibitions of base ball, which are purely state affairs." Federal Baseball, 259 U.S. at 208. Comparing the baseball league to a law firm sending a lawyer to another state to argue a case, the Court reasoned that the need for baseball teams to cross state lines to attend competitions was " mere[ly] incident[al]" to the business itself. Id. at 209.

The Court revisited the baseball...

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