This week, Precourt Sports Ventures and MLS filed a memo supporting their motion to dismiss a lawsuit from Ohio and Columbus attorneys over the potential move of Columbus Crew SC.
Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine and Columbus city attorney Zach Klein have sued the Crew and MLS, with the suit stemming from the team’s ongoing exploration of a move to Austin. In the case, the plaintiffs are citing an Art Modell-inspired state law–put into effect after Modell moved the original Cleveland Browns to Baltimore–to block the team from relocating. That law is designed to prevent the relocation of a professional sports franchise that has accepted public funding for a facility. It also stipulates that, in order to move, a professional sports franchise must first provide six months notice and the opportunity for local investors to buy the team.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in April on various grounds, including a claim that this statue cannot apply to the Crew. MLS operates under a single-entity structure, with Anthony Precourt’s PSV serving as the Crew’s investor-operator, technically making MLS the club’s owner. That claim, along with a few others, was highlighted in the 21-page memo filed late on Tuesday. More from The Columbus Dispatch:
The memo comes a little less than a month after PSV and MLS’ appeal in the case was dismissed by the Tenth District Court of Appeals.
The arguments laid out by PSV and MLS mirror their reasons stated in an April 19 filing of a motion to dismiss: that Ohio Revised Code 9.67, the basis for Ohio and Columbus’ lawsuit, does not apply in this case because MLS, not PSV, owns the Crew, that the law is in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause and the Privileges and Immunities Clause and is void for vagueness.
Ohio Revised Code 9.67, commonly referred to as the Art Modell Law, states that no owner of a professional sports team that uses a tax supported facility for most of its home games and receives financial assistance from a public entity cannot move unless it is given permission, via agreement, to do so or it first provides six months’ notice and the opportunity for locals to purchase the team.
PSV and MLS said in their memo they have “provided clear and unambiguous notice under the statute” on multiple occasions, including in a March 16, 2018 letter to Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and as recently as July 10, when the two parties met for a status conference at the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
In the case of, MAPFRE Stadium–which originally opened as Columbus Crew Stadium in 1999– the facility itself was privately financed, but the team has accepted free land, below-market leases and parking improvements. That was a sticking point in the motion to dismiss from the club and MLS, as defendants argued that MLS’s single-entity structure makes the league–not PSV–the team’s owner.
The court is expected to eventually rule on the motion. However, the case remains under a 90-day toll that was instituted in May, so a ruling cannot come until that period has concluded.
Currently, PSV is looking to complete an agreement with the City of Austin to construct a new stadium at McKalla Place, a city-owned site in North Austin. If that agreement is approved, the club could depart Columbus prior to the 2019 season and play two years at an existing facility in the Austin area until the new stadium opens in 2021. However, the club has yet to officially move forward with plans to relocate, and discussions about the stadium in Austin are expected to continue into at least next month.
Image courtesy MAPFRE Stadium.
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