NBA players decide to move legal fight to Minnesota

Published 12:21 am Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — After filing two separate antitrust lawsuits against the league in different states, NBA players are consolidating their efforts and have turned to the courts in Minnesota as their chosen venue.

A group of named plaintiffs including Carmelo Anthony, Steve Nash and Kevin Durant filed an amended federal lawsuit against the league in Minnesota on Monday, hoping the courts there will be as favorable to them as they have been to NFL players in the past.

The locked-out players filed class-action antitrust suits against the league last Tuesday in California and Minnesota. The California complaint was withdrawn Monday.

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“The likelihood was we’d get a faster result in Minnesota than California,” players’ lawyer David Boies said. “I think the result would be the same.”

NBA owners locked out the players July 1, and the labor strife between the two sides has forced games to be canceled through Dec. 15.

“This is consistent with Mr. Boies’ inappropriate shopping for a forum that he can only hope will be friendlier to his baseless legal claims,” Rick Buchanan, NBA executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement.

Federal court in Minnesota was the venue for all NFL labor disputes that reached the courts for the past two decades. The NFL players enjoyed several victories over the owners there, most recently when U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson issued a temporary injunction this summer that lifted the NFL’s owner-imposed lockout. That decision was stayed and eventually overturned on appeal by the 8th Circuit in St. Louis.

Boies insisted the only reason to pick Minnesota was to speed up the process. The first case management conference in California had been scheduled for March 9, although the sides could have requested the date to be moved up. Boies expected a hearing in Minnesota next month.

“The docket is less congested there,” he said. “They have a good track record of handling these kind of cases very promptly.”

The owners had already filed a lawsuit of their own in the Southern District of New York, a venue that has issued several NBA-friendly rulings over the years, and could file a motion to have the Minnesota case moved there.

After the two sides were unable to reach an accord, the players disbanded the union last week. That set the stage for the increasingly bitter labor dispute to move from the negotiating table to the courtroom, which could jeopardize the entire 2011-12 season.

Disbanding the union allowed the players to file an antitrust lawsuit against the league, a move the NFL players also used. Chauncey Billups, Rajon Rondo, Caron Butler, Baron Davis, Ben Gordon, Kawhi Leonard, Leon Powe, Anthony Randolph, Sebastian Telfair, Anthony Tolliver and Derrick Williams are the other named plaintiffs in the Minnesota lawsuit. The consolidated complaint added some players not in either of the original two, including Nash.

“Although the NBPA made concession after concession, including concessions that would cost its members more than one billion dollars over a six-year period, the NBA essentially refused to negotiate its basic 2007 demands, refusing to back off its demand for large salary reductions and harsh player restraints,” the lawsuit alleges.

The NBA must submit its response by Dec. 5. The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Schiltz.

Boies said that if there had been time to talk to all the players and lawyers initially, only one lawsuit would have been filed in the first place.

“It was a desire to get things moving. It was not a competition,” he said of the two suits. “This was not anything in which people were going different directions.”

The courts would have consolidated the suits anyway, so doing it now saves time. And with the first month and a half of the season already canceled, time is of the essence.

Boies repeated that the players’ side would prefer to reach a settlement instead of taking the litigation to its conclusion. But there was no indication that either side would be contacting the other anytime soon.

“In the face of somebody saying, ‘I don’t want to talk to you. We’ve got an offer — take it or leave it. This is an ultimatum. We’re going to make no more proposals,’ and somebody saying, ‘This is baseless; it ought to go away,”’ Boies said, “that’s a waste of time to make a telephone call.”