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Mayer v. Belichick

May 19, 2010

CARL J. MAYER, APPELLANT
v.
BILL BELICHICK; THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS; NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Civil No. 3-07-cr-04671) District Judge: Hon. Garrett E. Brown, Jr.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cowen, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued April 14, 2010

BEFORE: FISHER, and COWEN, Circuit Judges and PRATTER*fn1, District Judge.

OPINION

Plaintiff Carl J. Mayer appeals from the order of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey granting the respective motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots ("Patriots") as well as by Defendant National Football League ("NFL"). We will affirm.

I.

This highly unusual case was filed by a disappointed football fan and season ticket-holder in response to the so-called "Spygate" scandal. This scandal arose when it was discovered that the Patriots were surreptitiously videotaping the signals of their opponents.

Mayer, a New Jersey resident and New York Jets season ticket-holder, initially filed his complaint on September 7, 2007. He named as Defendants the Patriots, headquartered in Massachusetts, as well as the team's head coach, Belichick, a Massachusetts resident. Mayer eventually filed an amended complaint on August 19, 2008, which added the NFL, with its headquarters in New York, as a Defendant.

We, like the District Court before us, must look to the amended complaint, accepting its well-pleaded factual allegations as true for purposes of this appeal. The "Preliminary Statement of the Case" section of this extensive pleading provided a fair description of the gist of Mayer's case, at least against the Patriots and Belichick:

2. This case is brought by a New York Jets season ticket-holder on behalf of all similarly situated New York Jets season ticket-holders and other New York Jets ticket-holders against the Defendant New England Patriots and their coach, Defendant Bill Belichick. The core of this action is that the Defendants, during a game with the New York Jets on September 9, 2007, instructed an agent of the Defendants to surreptitiously videotape the New York Jets coaches and players on the field with the purpose of illegally recording, capturing and stealing the New York Jets signals and visual coaching instructions. The Defendants were in fact subsequently found by the National Football League ("NFL") to have improperly engaged in such conduct. This violated the contractual expectations and rights of New York Jets ticket-holders who fully anticipated and contracted for a ticket to observe an honest match played in compliance with all laws, regulations and NFL rules.

3. Plaintiffs contend that in purchasing tickets to watch the New York Jets that, as a matter of contract, the tickets imply that each game will be played in accordance with NFL rules and regulations as well as all applicable federal and state laws. Plaintiffs contend that Defendants tortuously [sic] interfered with their contractual relations with the New York Jets in purchasing the tickets. They further claim that Defendants violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and the New Jersey Deceptive Business Practices Act. Plaintiffs also claim that the Defendants violated federal and state racketeering laws by using the National Football League as an enterprise to carry out their illegal scheme. Because the Defendants have been found in other games to have illegally used video equipment, this action seeks damages for New York Jets ticket-holders for all games played in Giants stadium between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000.

(A18-A19.) Mayer then described at some length the alleged misconduct at issue here. His account, in turn, relied heavily on press accounts of the Spygate scandal as well as "on information and belief" allegations.

At their most fundamental level, the various claims alleged here arose out of the repeated and surreptitious violations of a specific NFL rule. This rule provides that "'no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game'" and that "all video for coaching purposes must be shot from locations 'enclosed on all sides with a roof overhead.'" (A22.) In a September 6, 2007 memorandum, Ray Anderson, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, stated that "'[v]ideotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.'" (Id.)

On September 9, 2007, the Jets and the Patriots played the season opener in Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Mayer possessed tickets and parking passes to this game, and the Patriots ultimately won, 38-14. ESPN.com then reported that the NFL was investigating accusations that an employee of the Patriots was actually videotaping the signals given by Jets coaches at this game. Specifically, NFL security reportedly confiscated a video camera and videotape from an employee during the course of the game, and this employee was accused of aiming his camera at the Jets' defensive coaches while they were sending signals out to the team's players on the field.

This was not the first time a public accusation of cheating or dishonesty had been made against the Patriots. A man wearing a Patriots credential was found carrying a video camera on the sidelines at the home field of the Green Bay Packers in November 2006. Admittedly, "[t]eams are allowed to have a limited number of their own videographers on the sideline during the game, but they must have a credential that authorizes them to shoot video, and wear a yellow vest." (A21.) However, this particular individual evidently lacked the proper credential and attire and was accordingly escorted out of the stadium by Packers security.

With respect to the 2007 incident, the Patriots denied that there was any violation of the NFL's rules. A Patriots cornerback named Ellis Hobbs told the press that he was unwilling to believe that his team had cheated and that he was standing by the team and its coaches. However, he also admitted that, "[i]f it's true, obviously, we're in the wrong." (Id.) Belichick apologized to everyone affected following the confiscation of the videotape. But, at a weekly press conference on September 12, 2007, he refused to take questions from reporters about the NFL investigation and stormed out of the room.

On September 13, 2007, "the NFL found the Defendants guilty of violating all applicable NFL rules by engaging in a surreptitious videotaping program." (A22.) It imposed the following sanctions: (1) the Patriots were fined $250,000.00; (2) Belichick was personally fined $500,000.00; and (3) the Patriots would be stripped of any first-round draft pick for the next year if the team reached the playoffs in the 2007-2008 season and, if not so successful, the team would otherwise lose its second- and third-round picks. Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, characterized the whole episode as "'a calculated and deliberate attempt to avoid longstanding rules designed to encourage fair play and promote honest competition on the playing field.'" (Id.) He further justified the penalties imposed on the team on the grounds that "'Coach ...


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