Judge's ruling favors Zion Williamson, voids New Orleans Pelicans star's marketing agreement with Gina Ford

A federal judge in North Carolina has granted Zion Williamson partial judgment in his lawsuit against a former marketing agent who sued the New Orleans Pelicans star for $100 million in damages claiming breach of contract.

In Wednesday's ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta C. Biggs voided Williamson's marketing agreement with Gina Ford and Prime Sports Marketing because it didn't meet the requirements of North Carolina's Uniform Athlete Agents Act.

Specifically, Biggs ruled that Williamson was a student-athlete at Duke when he engaged with Ford's company; he had not been declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA; Ford was not a certified agent in North Carolina; the agreement did not include the required warnings under the law; and Williamson and his family communicated to Ford that they were terminating and voiding the contract.

"Having considered the pleadings, viewed in the light most favorable to Defendants and drawing all reasonable inferences in Defendants' favor, the Court concludes that Plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether the Agreement is void," Biggs wrote in her ruling.

Williamson, who played one season at Duke before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, sued Ford and Prime Sports in June 2019 in an attempt to terminate his marketing agreement with her company.

The same month, Ford and Prime Sports Marketing sued Williamson, Creative Artists Agency and two CAA employees in a Florida court, alleging that CAA interfered with Prime Sports' deal with Williamson and that he breached their five-year contract.

Biggs also denied Ford's motion to supplement an earlier response with alleged evidence that suggested Williamson wasn't eligible under NCAA rules when he played at Duke because his family and others had accepted improper benefits.

"Defendants' affirmative defenses and counterclaims that Plaintiff was not a student-athlete do not rely on material allegations of fact, rather a conclusion of law that flies in the face of their own pleadings as well as attachments to their pleadings," Biggs wrote. "Although Defendants assert that their pleadings make clear that they contest Plaintiff's status as a student-athlete at the time that the Agreement was entered, this assertion is in direct conflict with their admission that Plaintiff was actively engaging in an intercollegiate sport -- namely, men's basketball -- which is one of the ways the UAAA provides that an individual can be deemed a student-athlete. The Court is not required to assume the truth of legal allegations or conclusions because they are packaged in the form of factual allegations."

Williamson's attorney called Wednesday "a good day for truth and justice."

"We are grateful that the Court invalidated the contract based on the merits of the case, in line with the clear, relevant requirements under North Carolina law," Jeffrey S. Klein said in a statement. "The Court confirmed that actual facts matter, which hopefully will serve as a cautionary tale for unscrupulous agents looking to prey on student athletes."