Fifteen months after the Rams left St. Louis for Los Angeles, local authorities in St. Louis have sued the NFL, the team owners that approved the move and Rams owner Stan Kroenke. The city, joined by St. Louis County and the region's sports authority, wants reimbursement for the millions of dollars it spent trying to keep the Rams, and it wants compensation for the loss of the team. While there is little chance that St. Louis can win against the NFL, the local authorities could succeed in their claims against Kroenke, who orchestrated the move. The lawsuit raises several questions. Here are some answers:
Why does St. Louis have little chance against the NFL?
In their claims against the NFL, the St. Louis authorities rely on legal theories known as "unjust enrichment" and "tortious interference with a business advantage." American jurisprudence offers a litigant who feels wronged and seeks revenge an enormous array of legal theories, but these are two of the weakest. They rarely work, and they are not likely to work for St. Louis. Unjust enrichment is supposed to mean that a business has somehow enjoyed profits or benefits that it is not entitled to, but there is no automatic legal remedy in a free market when one business succeeds at the expense of another. Tortious interference implies that a person or group has wrongfully intervened in another's success -- in other words, that St. Louis was enjoying the benefits of the Rams until the NFL swooped in and unjustly stole them away. But actions by a competitor do not automatically produce money damages for the party that suffered. The reliance of St. Louis on these theories show the weakness of the claim.
What makes the St. Louis case against Rams owner Stan Kroenke stronger?
The lawsuit alleges that, as Kroenke initiated the process that led to the move, both he and his chief operating officer, Kevin Demoff, made a series of false statements to St. Louis authorities and the media. The St. Louis lawsuit describes these statements as "false when made" and asserts that they "were never corrected." The media statements include a Kroenke assertion in April 2010 that "I'm going to attempt do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis." Demoff, speaking for Kroenke and the Rams, went even further, publicly promising that "our goal is to build a winner in St. Louis not only in 2012, but in 2022, 2032 and beyond." At a later news conference, Demoff stated that Kroenke and the Rams "were proud of our commitment to St. Louis and passionate about building a winner right here." To prove these statements false, lawyers for St. Louis will need to demonstrate that it was Kroenke's plan all along to move the team to L.A.
Part of that effort will include statements, which the lawsuit highlights, made by Demoff around Kroenke's 2014 purchase of the future stadium property in the city of Inglewood. At a season-ticket-holder event that year, Demoff said that the site "was not a piece of land that's any good for a football stadium. The size and the shape aren't good for a football stadium." But according to a January 2016 interview in the Los Angeles Times, Demoff admitted that, at the time of the Inglewood purchase, Kroenke told him that property was "an unbelievable site" for a stadium. Demoff recounted receiving an ecstatic early-morning call in the summer of 2013 from Kroenke, who had been out inspecting the site. Demoff added that the call from Kroenke "was one of the moments in your life you never forget." These potential falsehoods could form the basis of a serious legal action against Kroenke and the Rams. Although they are typical of statements made by team owners seeking a better stadium deal, they will become strong evidence against Kroenke in a trial before a jury of St. Louis citizens.
Kroenke and his lawyers will explain that these statements are part of the bargaining process that occurs in any relocation controversy. Is there independent evidence that would support St. Louis?
Yes, there are two important and unexpected developments that will help St. Louis in a trial. When the Rams hired Jeff Fisher as head coach in January 2012, the suit points out that Rams officials appear to have told him privately that the team would be moving to L.A. "I was very fortunate to have some options. I decided on Los Angeles or St. Louis at the time knowing that there was going to be a pending move," he said in a news conference in December 2016.
The second unexpected development is based on a report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told St. Louis that its demand that the NFL invest $300 million in a new stadium in St. Louis was "fundamentally inconsistent with the NFL's program of stadium financing." Within a month of his statement to St.Louis, however, Goodell was offering $300 million to both San Diego and Oakland as those markets were considering new stadiums. Goodell's actions will allow the St. Louis lawyers to assert that the NFL was conspiring with Kroenke to sabotage any effort in St. Louis to build a new stadium for the Rams.
How much money could St. Louis collect in this litigation?
In the lawsuit, the lawyers for St. Louis offer a wish list of enormous sums of money -- totaling more than $1 billion -- that they think the city and county should collect. They even include the $550 million relocation fee that Kroenke is paying to his fellow NFL owners for permission to move to Los Angeles. More realistically, the St. Louis authorities will also ask the jury to reimburse the city for expenses incurred during the attempt to build a new stadium, for taxes lost as a result of the departure of the team and for damages to compensate the city for the loss of its NFL team. Based on the numbers in the suit, a conservative, very rough estimate on these damages would be in the range of $50-100 million, a large sum, but considerably short of the demands in the lawsuit. Perhaps equally appealing to local fans will be the opportunity to see Kroenke and Demoff testify in court in St. Louis.
In addition to Kroenke and Demoff, what other individuals will be important in the litigation?
There are two personalities worth noting: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. According to the lawsuit, Jones was an important advisor to Kroenke as he worked on the relocation and sought support from his fellow owners. Jones, the lawsuit states, provided "the blueprint for the deal that ultimately received enough votes (24 of 32 owners) to approve the relocation." Jones was allegedly instrumental in persuading other owners that the relocation should be approved "solely on the amount of money that could be made in Los Angeles." Jones is likely to be called to testify.
Nixon was governor at the time Kroenke was maneuvering to move the team. When Kroenke refused to meet with him, Nixon traveled to NFL headquarters in New York City to make a plea for the Rams. Nixon is now a partner in Dowd Bennett, one of the law firms representing the St. Louis authorities in their action against Kroenke and the NFL, and could also be called as a witness.