A Missouri appellate court has rejected the Los Angeles Rams and their owner’s request to halt claims by the city and county of St. Louis over the NFL team’s contentious relocation to Southern California, meaning the suit will move forward in state court over the team’s objections that the claims belong in arbitration.
The Rams and owner Stan Kroenke had asked the Missouri Court of Appeals to halt its April ruling that the claims did not belong in arbitration while they pursued a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court, a move that could have further delayed the 2½-year-old case for months. The order handed down Friday comes after the Supreme Court of Missouri this month already refused to take their appeal.
The City of St. Louis, the County of St. Louis and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority claimed the NFL and its teams did not follow their own protocol for green-lighting a team relocation, leaving the local government on the hook for at least $17 million spent on a new stadium proposal to keep the Rams in St. Louis.
But the Rams and Kroenke have argued that the dispute belongs in private arbitration under arbitration provisions in the deal that brought the team to St. Louis from Anaheim, California, in 1995 and the team’s initial stadium lease.
In April, a Missouri appellate court ruled the 1995 relocation and lease agreements with the arbitration clauses are not at issue in the current case, as it pertains to whether the team engaged in negotiations with St. Louis to stay in good faith. Such efforts are required under the NFL’s official relocation policy, the government plaintiffs claim.
The appellate court’s latest order comes after a series of rulings denying the Rams and Kroenke’s arguments that claims over the relocation belong in arbitration.
The city, county and stadium authority last week urged the appellate court to allow the case to proceed, arguing the Rams and Kroenke “have left no stone unturned in attempting to avoid answering in open court the claims” alleged back in 2017.
“For nearly two and a half years, every level of the Missouri Courts has rejected unequivocally — in three written opinions — the Rams’ insistence that this matter should be heard in closed-door arbitration based on a decades-old irrelevant lease,” the plaintiffs argued in a court filing last week. “Having reached the realistic end of the line, with Missouri’s highest court refusing to accept transfer, the Rams make yet another plea to keep this case on hold … there is no reason to do so.”
The Rams and Kroenke could still petition the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court doesn’t have to take up their appeal and chances of it happening are statistically very low.
Representatives for the Rams and Kroenke did not respond to Law360’s requests for comment Monday.
The Rams already won another suit with the city over the team’s relocation that was sent to arbitration. In that case, an arbitration panel allowed the team to take control of a nearly $13 million training facility, finding it was entitled to exercise an option to buy back the 27-acre facility for $1.
NFL team owners approved the Rams’ plan to move to Los Angeles in January 2016, and the team moved before the start of the following season.
The city and county of St. Louis city and the municipal stadium authority filed their suit in April 2017, claiming they spent taxpayer money trying to get the Rams to remain in St. Louis under the impression that the team and the league would give them a fair shot to do so under league relocation rules.
The suit came after multiple lawsuits by disgruntled fans over the move. Earlier this year, the Rams reached a $24 million settlement with fans who purchased seat licenses, contracts that had entitled the fans to purchase season tickets.
The NFL was not a party to the arbitration dispute.
The City and County of St. Louis and the stadium authority are represented by Robert D. Blitz and Christopher Owen Bauman of Blitz Bardgett & Deutsch LC and Edward L. Dowd Jr. and Michelle Nasser of Dowd Bennett LLP.
The Rams and Kroenke are represented by Robert T. Haar, Lisa A. Pake and Susan E. Bindler of Haar & Woods LLP.
The case is St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority et al. v. National Football League et al., case number ED106282-01 in the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District.