Major League Baseball v. Crist, No. 02-10333.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtTjoflat
Citation331 F.3d 1177
PartiesMAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, Allan H. Selig, Tampa Bay Devil Rays Ltd., Florida Marlins Baseball Club LLC, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Charlie CRIST, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date27 May 2003
Docket NumberNo. 02-10333.
331 F.3d 1177
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL, Allan H. Selig, Tampa Bay Devil Rays Ltd., Florida Marlins Baseball Club LLC, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
Charlie CRIST, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 02-10333.
United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.
May 27, 2003.

Page 1178

Patricia Ann Conners, John D.C. Newton, II, Senior Asst. Atty. Gen., Thomas E. Warner, Tallahassee, FL, for Defendant-Appellant.

John Phillips Cole, James Otto Birr, III, Foley and Lardner, Jacksonville, FL, Lori S. Rowe, Peter Antonacci, Gray, Harris & Robinson, P.A., Tallahassee, FL, Mary K. Braza, G. Michael Halfenger, Foley & Lardner, Milwaukee, WI, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Page 1179

Bruce P. Smith, University of Illinois College of Law, Champaign, IL, Steven A. Fehr, Jolley, Walsh, Hurley & Raisher, P.C., Kansas City, MO, George E. Yund, Frost, Brown, Todd LLC, Cincinnati, OH, for Consumer Federation of America, American Antitrust Institute, Major League Baseball Players Ass'n, National Ass'n of Professional Baseball Leagues, Amici Curiae.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Before TJOFLAT and BLACK, Circuit Judges, and GOLDBERG*, Judge.

TJOFLAT, Circuit Judge:


For better or worse, professional baseball has long enjoyed an exemption from the antitrust laws.1 The scope of this exemption — a judge-made rule premised upon dubious rationales2 and labeled an "aberration" by the Supreme Court3 — has been the subject of extensive litigation over the years. In this case, we are called upon to address two key issues: (1) the effect of the federal rule upon state antitrust law and (2) whether the exemption extends beyond antitrust prosecutions into the realm of mere investigations. With regard to the first issue, we hold that the federal exemption preempts state antitrust law. As for the second issue, we hold that the Florida Attorney General cannot proceed with the investigation in this case. This holding is based upon the Fourth Amendment4 and state law rather than the antitrust exemption. In this vein, our analysis differs significantly from that of the district court, although we ultimately affirm its decision.

I.
A.

Major League Baseball ("MLB") is an unincorporated association of thirty major league baseball clubs. On November 6, 2001, a supermajority of the clubs voted in favor of eliminating two teams from the league. The Florida Marlins and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays voted in favor of contraction. The former Attorney General of Florida, Robert Butterworth, is a fan of baseball, but not of MLB's contraction policy. According to one newspaper, Butterworth proclaimed that "[i]t's not going to be easy for baseball to leave the state of Florida.... We finally got a team in Tampa Bay, and we're going to do all we can to keep it." See Joe Follick, State Starts Battle Over Contraction, The Tampa Trib., Nov. 14, 2001. Similarly, Butterworth is reported to have said, "I'm out here to do whatever I can do to keep

Page 1180

[baseball] in Florida if at all possible." See Lesley Clark & Clark Spencer, Baseball Cutback Plan Challenged, The Miami Herald, Nov. 25, 2001. Making good on his promise, the Attorney General issued several civil investigative demands ("CIDs") to Major League Baseball, Commissioner Allan H. Selig, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Ltd., and the Florida Marlins Baseball Club, LLC — all of whom are plaintiffs in this case. The CIDs were issued pursuant to the Attorney General's authority under Florida's antitrust statute, Fla. Stat. § 542.28.5 The CIDs were broad in scope, requiring that each recipient answer several interrogatories6 and produce voluminous documents.7

The recipients of the CIDs had several options available, but only one option could

Page 1181

yield the desired result. The most obvious option would have been to comply with the terms of the CIDs. But this option was unattractive because the CIDs were burdensome, and the recipients believed that the federal exemption gave them a "federal right" to be free not only from antitrust prosecution, but also from this investigation. Second, the recipients of the CIDs could have filed suit in state court pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 542.28(3)-(5)8 under the theory that since the business of baseball is immune from antitrust prosecution, the Attorney General's investigation is baseless and therefore flunks the "grand jury" and "Florida Rules of Civil Procedure" tests established by subsections (3)(a) and (3)(b), respectively. This option was similarly unattractive because Commissioner Selig, MLB, and the two Florida clubs would have found it impossible to convince a Florida trial court to adopt the first premise of the argument—namely, that the "business of baseball" is immune from antitrust prosecution. This is because the Supreme Court of Florida held in an earlier decision that the antitrust exemption established by federal law extends only to the reserve system9 rather than broadly exempting the "business of baseball." See Butterworth v. Nat'l League of Prof'l Baseball Clubs, 644 So.2d 1021 (Fla. 1994).10 This left option three: an action in federal court, the present lawsuit.

B.

The plaintiffs' complaint is based upon two theories. Under the first theory, the plaintiffs contend that (a) there is a "federal right" that exempts "the business of baseball" as a proper subject of an antitrust enforcement suit and (b) this federal right extends to administrative investigations. We call this the "penumbra" theory because, like Justice Douglas's theory of the Bill of Rights,11 the claim posits that a core federal right (i.e., exemption from antitrust prosecution) has a shadow which extends the right to encompasses much more (i.e., an exemption from antitrust investigation). Having established this broad federal right, the plaintiffs argue that this right precludes the Attorney General's investigation. This is so even if the state investigation is premised solely upon state antitrust law, because state antitrust law, to the extent that it is applied to the business of baseball, is preempted by federal law and violates the Commerce Clause.12

Page 1182

The plaintiffs also invoke another model. Like the penumbra theory, the second model continues to argue that federal law exempts the business of baseball from antitrust regulation, and that the Supremacy Clause and the Commerce Clause preclude the application of state antitrust law to the extent that state law is inconsistent with federal policy. Unlike the penumbra theory, however, the second theory does not contend that an exemption from prosecution necessarily includes an exemption from investigation. Rather, law external to federal antitrust doctrine precludes the Attorney General's investigation. Since the Attorney General could not possibly bring a suit on the grounds that contraction constitutes anticompetitive behavior in violation of federal or state antitrust laws, any investigation must be premised on the notion that the Attorney General is free to investigate perfectly legal activity. The plaintiffs allege that this premise is incorrect in light of Florida law13 and the Fourth Amendment,14 which prohibit baseless "fishing expeditions."

Invoking both theories, the plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,15 in addition to an order setting aside the CIDs pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 542.28(3). The district court could have properly exercised federal question jurisdiction16 over the section 1983 claims, and it could have exercised its supplemental jurisdiction17 over the claims arising under Florida law.

The district court granted much of the requested relief, holding that the antitrust exemption covers the business of baseball and that state antitrust laws do not apply to the proposed contraction. The district court further held that "the Attorney General had no authority to issue antitrust CIDs to investigate the proposed contraction of Major League Baseball." Major League Baseball, 181 F.Supp.2d at 1335. The legal basis for the latter conclusion is unclear, because no authority was cited by the district court. However, we have two clues that lead us to suspect that the court adopted the penumbra theory. First, the court's final order completely ignored the plaintiffs' claims based on Fla. Stat. § 542.28(3) and made no mention of the Fourth Amendment. Second, the final order declared that "the federal and state antitrust laws do not apply to the proposed contraction of Major League Baseball from 30 to 28 and do not authorize investigation of that proposed contraction by the Attorney General." That is, the district court appears to have believed that the right to

Page 1183

be exempt from an antitrust investigation inherently flows from the exemption itself.

As we discuss below, we believe that the district court made an analytical mistake and that the court should have considered the plaintiffs' claims based upon the Fourth Amendment and Fla. Stat. § 542.28(3). But the court's instincts were correct: the law prohibits baseless "fishing expeditions," and so an exemption from prosecution necessarily would have required the district court to prohibit the Attorney General's investigation. We therefore affirm the court's judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.

C.

We ordinarily review a district court's decision to grant or deny an injunction for clear abuse of discretion. See United States v. Gilbert, 244 F.3d 888, 908 (11th Cir.2001). Underlying questions of law, however, are reviewed de novo. See United States v. Pruitt, 174 F.3d 1215, 1219 (11th Cir.1999) ("A district court by definition abuses its discretion when it makes an error of law.") (citation omitted); Manning ex rel. Manning v. School Bd. of Hillsborough County, Fla., 244 F.3d 927, 940 (11th Cir.2001). The decisions of the district court that the Attorney General challenges in this appeal were all reached as a matter of law. Accordingly, de novo review is appropriate.

II.
A.

The...

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29 practice notes
  • Aroostook Band of Micmacs v. Ryan, No. 04-1517.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • April 13, 2005
    ...to the filing of an enforcement action, which may or may not occur."), aff'd on other grounds sub nom. Major League Baseball v. Crist, 331 F.3d 1177 (11th Cir.2003). The target has a right to challenge the investigation itself in federal court, and this right is not forfeited by compliance ......
  • Google, Inc. v. Hood, No. 15–60205.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 18, 2016
    ...courts have jurisdiction over suits to enjoin state officials from interfering with federal rights.”); Major League Baseball v. Crist, 331 F.3d 1177, 1182 (11th Cir.2003) (holding that federal-question jurisdiction existed over § 1983 claims that a state attorney general's investigative sub......
  • Klay v. United Healthgroup, Inc., No. 02-16640.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • June 30, 2004
    ...findings of fact under the clearly erroneous standard"), and its purely legal determinations de novo. See Major League Baseball v. Crist, 331 F.3d 1177, 1183 (11th Cir.2003) (holding that, when reviewing a district court's decision to grant or deny an injunction, "[u]nderlying questions of ......
  • In re Blue Cross Blue Shield Antitrust Litig., Master File No.: 2:13–CV–20000–RDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • April 5, 2018
    ...its precedents"). And the Eleventh Circuit has abided by that guidance in antitrust cases. See, e.g. , Major League Baseball v. Crist , 331 F.3d 1177, 1188–89 (11th Cir. 2003) (holding that the "business-of-baseball exemption" preempted a state-law antitrust action against Major League Base......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Aroostook Band of Micmacs v. Ryan, No. 04-1517.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • April 13, 2005
    ...the filing of an enforcement action, which may or may not occur."), aff'd on other grounds sub nom. Major League Baseball v. Crist, 331 F.3d 1177 (11th Cir.2003). The target has a right to challenge the investigation itself in federal court, and this right is not forfeited by complianc......
  • Google, Inc. v. Hood, No. 15–60205.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • May 18, 2016
    ...courts have jurisdiction over suits to enjoin state officials from interfering with federal rights.”); Major League Baseball v. Crist, 331 F.3d 1177, 1182 (11th Cir.2003) (holding that federal-question jurisdiction existed over § 1983 claims that a state attorney general's investigative sub......
  • In re Blue Cross Blue Shield Antitrust Litig., Master File No.: 2:13–CV–20000–RDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • April 5, 2018
    ...precedents"). And the Eleventh Circuit has abided by that guidance in antitrust cases. See, e.g. , Major League Baseball v. Crist , 331 F.3d 1177, 1188–89 (11th Cir. 2003) (holding that the "business-of-baseball exemption" preempted a state-law antitrust action against Major ......
  • Klay v. United Healthgroup, Inc., No. 02-16640.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • June 30, 2004
    ...of fact under the clearly erroneous standard"), and its purely legal determinations de novo. See Major League Baseball v. Crist, 331 F.3d 1177, 1183 (11th Cir.2003) (holding that, when reviewing a district court's decision to grant or deny an injunction, "[u]nderlying questions of......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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