Phillips v. Selig, 1966 EDA 2007.

Citation959 A.2d 420,2008 PA Super 244
Decision Date17 October 2008
Docket NumberNo. 1966 EDA 2007.,1966 EDA 2007.
PartiesRichard G. PHILLIPS and Richard G. Phillips Associates, P.C., Appellant v. Alan H. "Bud" SELIG, Appellee World Umpires Associates, v. Richard G. Phillips Associates, P.C.
CourtSuperior Court of Pennsylvania

Clifford E. Haines, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Michael Saltzburg, Philadelphia, for World Umpires, appellee.

Howard L. Ganz, New York, New York, for Major League Baseball, appellee.

Daniel Segal, Philadelphia, for Shapiro appellee.

BEFORE: GANTMAN, DONOHUE, JJ. and McEWEN, P.J.E.

OPINION BY DONOHUE, J.:

¶ 1 Appellants, Richard G. Phillips ("Phillips") and Richard G. Phillips Associates, P.C. ("Phillips Associates"), appeal from the order dated June 5, 2007 denying Appellants' motion to reconsider the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of all Appellees.1 After an exhaustive review of the evidentiary record, we affirm.

Factual and Procedural Background

¶ 2 The factual and procedural background is not in dispute. In 1979, Appellants began serving as counsel to the Major League Umpires Association ("MLUA"), the former union for umpires employed by the American and National Leagues. Beginning in 1998 and continuing into early 1999, tensions arose between the MLUA and MLB based upon a number of issues, including performance evaluations, the definition of the strike zone, and a proposal to transfer supervision of the umpires from the American and National Leagues to the Commissioner's Office. These issues were discussed at length in February 1999 at the MLUA's annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, as was the expiration of the MLUA's collective bargaining agreement (the "CBA") at the end of 1999. At this annual meeting, Appellees Hirschbeck and Brinkman participated in an effort to have Phillips Associates replaced with the Shapiro Appellees as counsel for the MLUA. These efforts failed and the membership of the MLUA voted 49-14 to retain Phillips Associates as its counsel.2

¶ 3 In the following months, tensions continued to rise among some members of the MLUA. As a result, at the June 30, 1999 meeting of the Board of Directors of the MLUA, Phillips and the MLUA board members discussed the possibility of taking a strike vote at the upcoming all-star break in July. Because the CBA contained a "no strike" provision,3 it was decided that this approach would most likely result in an injunction forcing the umpires back to work, and thus would not achieve the desired goal of requiring the Commissioner's Office to address their concerns. This board meeting concluded in a call for a special meeting of the union membership on July 14, 1999 in Philadelphia.

¶ 4 In advance of the July 14 special meeting, Phillips devised an alternative non-strike strategy in an attempt to gain the upper hand with MLB. At the special meeting, Phillips proposed that every member of the union resign from his position by letter setting an effective date of September 5, 1999 (immediately prior to the playoffs) and demanding termination pay. Phillips also recommended that every umpire sign a personal services agreement with a newly formed entity, Professional Umpires Services, Inc. ("PUSI"), so that MLB could hire the umpires back to work during the playoffs. Phillips believed that MLB would not want to begin the playoffs with less talented replacement umpires and would also balk at having to pay more than $15 million in severance pay due under the CBA. Appellants' Brief at 16. Approximately 57 of the 68 members of the MLUA signed resignation letters and PUSI personal services agreements, which had both been prepared in advance of the meeting.

¶ 5 Immediately after the special meeting, Phillips held a press conference announcing the mass resignation strategy. The next day, July 15, 1999, Appellants faxed the 57 resignation letters to the presidents of the American and National Leagues. The en masse resignation strategy received wide national media attention, most of which was strongly negative. Hirschbeck and Brinkman, who had both refused to resign or enter into a professional services agreement, were among the strategy's vocal opponents.

¶ 6 Some umpires reconsidered the wisdom of participating in the resignation strategy, and between July 18, 1999 and July 22, 1999, thirteen of them (eleven from the American League and two from the National League) sent letters to MLB rescinding their resignation letters. On July 22, 1999, the MLB Appellees held a meeting in Milwaukee to discuss an appropriate response to the en masse resignations. At this meeting, the MLB Appellees decided to accept the thirteen rescission letters received by that time and to begin the process of replacing the umpires who had not rescinded their resignations. By the end of that day, the National League had made eight offers of employment to minor league umpires and the American League had made twelve offers, all of which were accepted. During the course of the same day (July 22), Selig spoke with Hirschbeck by telephone on two or three occasions, with the longest call lasting about nine minutes, and with Shapiro once for approximately two minutes.

¶ 7 On July 23, 1999, the MLUA (represented by Appellants) filed suit against the American and National Leagues in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, demanding a temporary restraining order to prevent MLB from accepting the umpires' resignations. On July 26, 1999, the federal district court, after meeting with the parties, refused to grant the requested relief.

¶ 8 On July 27, 1999, Phillips sent letters to the presidents of the American and National Leagues purporting to rescind all of the remaining resignation letters. By this time, however, the American League had already hired replacements for all of the umpires who had resigned but not rescinded by that point in time. As a result, the American League had no positions open and accepted the resignations of nine umpires. The National League, in contrast, had filled 13 positions with replacements and had 19 positions open, with 32 umpires to fill them. The National League accepted the rescissions of 19 umpires and the resignations of the remaining 13 umpires. In total, 22 umpires lost their jobs.

¶ 9 In August 1999, the MLUA (again represented by Appellants) filed a demand for arbitration pursuant to the CBA, challenging MLB's acceptance of the resignations of the 22 umpires. In its grievance, the MLUA alleged that MLB had violated the CBA by conspiring with an insurgent union movement led by the Umpire Appellees and the Shapiro Appellees. The MLUA also contended that the insurgent union movement had attempted to undermine the MLUA and encouraged the union to terminate its relationship with Appellants. Following a seventeen day arbitration hearing, the arbitrator ruled generally in favor of MLB, finding no evidence of a conspiracy or other wrongdoing by MLB.4 The arbitrator's decision, with minor exceptions, was affirmed on appeal by both the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari.

¶ 10 With Shapiro serving as advisor, Hirschbeck and Brinkman, along with thirteen other umpires, created an organizing committee, the Major League Umpires Independent Organizing Committee ("IOC") to challenge the MLUA. In October 1999, the IOC filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") to decertify the MLUA. Both the MLUA and the IOC campaigned the members of the union for their support. Between November 5 and November 30, 1999, a decertification election supervised by the NLRB was held by mail ballot. A majority of eligible voters, by a margin of 57-35, selected the IOC to replace the MLUA.

¶ 11 In December 1999, the MLUA (represented by Appellants) filed a petition with the NLRB against MLB to overturn the decertification election. The petition claimed that MLB had, inter alia, violated the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") by negotiating with a union other than the MLUA. The NLRB rejected the MLUA's claims, concluding that MLB had acted in accordance with its obligations under the CBA and had not improperly influenced the decertification election. The MLUA filed objections to the hearing examiner's report, but on February 20, 2000 the NLRB affirmed the report and issued a final ruling against the MLUA.

¶ 12 On February 24, 2000, the umpires formally voted to decertify the MLUA and to certify the WUA as the new umpires' union. WUA retained the Shapiro Appellees as its collective bargaining representative. The MLUA continues to exist but has no members.

¶ 13 Appellants filed the present lawsuit in July 2000. All defendants filed preliminary objections. By opinion and order dated September 19, 2001, the learned trial judge, The Honorable Albert Sheppard, Jr., granted the preliminary objections with respect to all counts of fraudulent conveyance, quantum meruit/unjust enrichment, and breach of contract. Phillips v. Selig, 2001 WL 1807951 at *3-4 (Philadelphia CCP, September 19, 2001). After five years of discovery, Judge Sheppard, in a thorough opinion dated October 12, 2006, granted summary judgment to all defendants with respect to all counts of defamation, invasion of privacy/false light, commercial disparagement, and injurious falsehood. Trial Court Opinion, 10/12/06. The trial judge ordered further oral argument on the remaining claims, i.e., for tortious interference with prospective and existing contractual relations and conspiracy. By opinion and order dated February 8, 2007 analyzing the facts and legal theories of the claims, Judge Sheppard granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants on the remaining claims. Trial Court Opinion, 2/8/07. Judge Sheppard granted reconsideration, but on June 5, 2007 reinstated his order dated February 8, 2007 granting...

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