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TYPE: Breach of contract, tortious interference CASE: Maris Distributing Co. v. Anheuser-Busch Inc., No. 97-CA-22 (Alachua Co., Fla., Cir. Ct.) PLAINTIFF’S ATTORNEYS: Willie E. Gary, Madison B. McClellan, Tricia Hoffler and Robert Parenti of Stuart, Fla.’s Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando DEFENSE ATTORNEYS: Peter E. Moll of Washington, D.C.’s Howrey Simon Arnold & White; and Stanley Cushman of Gainesville, Fla.’s Scruggs & Carmichael JURY VERDICT: $139.7 million, remitted When St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire hit his 62d home run during the 1998 baseball season, he bounced Roger Maris out of the record book. But his invitation to the Maris family to join him in St. Louis to watch him is credited by plaintiffs’ counsel Willie E. Gary with helping the family win a $139.7 million verdict in 2001. Maris, who broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing home record in 1961 while a member of the New York Yankees, subsequently joined the St. Louis Cardinals, which was owned by Anheuser-Busch Inc. After helping the Cardinals win the 1967 World Series, Maris and his brother Rudy were awarded an Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Gainesville, Fla. Roger Maris retired from baseball soon after and the distributorship became one of the largest in the United States. The family continued operating the family business after Roger Maris’ death in 1986. But in the mid-1990s, the relationship between Maris Distributing and Anheuser-Busch began to sour, Gary said. Anheuser-Busch contended there were allegations about the Maris distributorship, that it was selling stale beer and falsifying records. Anheuser-Busch “sent in a team of investigators,” Gary said, and the investigators confirmed the complaints. There was no truth to the accusations, said Gary. “Anheuser Busch wanted the franchise back so they could resell it.” Gary said. “August Busch wanted to give it to one of his friends.” The brewer offered to buy back the franchise from the Maris family. “They offered to pay $20 million. It was worth $100 million,” Gary said. The Maris family turned down the offer. There was a clause in the distribution contract with Anheuser-Busch that limited the ability to sell out. In late 1996, Maris Distributing filed a federal antitrust claim against Anheuser-Busch contending that this provision in the contract, which prevented the company from selling out to the public or to a publicly owned company, was a restraint of trade. This action was tried in 2000 and an Ocala, Fla., jury rejected the plaintiff’s claim. Maris Distributing Co. Inc. v. Anheuser-Busch Inc., No. 5:97-cv-15-OC-10 (M.D. Fla.). In January 1997, two months after Maris Distributing filed the antitrust claim, Anheuser-Busch terminated the contract and sold the territory to other distributors. Maris Distributing did not receive any of this money. Maris then filed a separate lawsuit in Florida charging breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The antitrust lawsuit was not filed until after it was clear to the Maris family that Anheuser-Busch “was going to terminate anyway.” Gary was not part of the first trial. A key point in the dispute between Busch and the Maris family was the contention by the brewer that the distribution contract had been terminated for cause. Maris denied the charges and Gary developed the theme that this was contrary to “common sense. You can forget about the cross- examinations, the motions, the discovery, the documents — Busch couldn’t answer that question: ‘Why were you in bed with Maris Distributing for 29 years if they were no good?’ “ In addition, Gary said, before terminating the contract, Busch offered a consulting deal to Rudy Maris, paying $1 million for one year. But central to the plaintiff’s cause was the contention that the distributorship was targeted for dismissal long before the contract was terminated. “We contended they stacked the deck,” Gary said. And that’s where Mark McGwire came in. When the Maris family came to St. Louis to watch McGwire break the record, the husband of a former secretary for the brewer was watching the coverage on television and noticed that Roger Maris’ widow was in town. The former secretary, Debbie Earley, had worked at Anheuser-Busch in the mid-1990s, said Gary, where she typed up several “highly confidential” documents. These documents, he said, “outlined a scheme to take over the Maris’ territory.” She told no one but her husband, Gary said. She was no longer working for the company in 1998 and when the Marises came to town, Gary reported, “her husband told her, you can’t live with yourself if you allow Busch to say they weren’t targeted. She called Mrs. Maris while she was in St. Louis,” he said. The secretary not only described what she had been typing, Gary said, “she had kept some of the documents.” Gary called Earley as his first witness. The defense contended that the contract was terminated for cause and that Anheuser-Busch owed nothing to Maris Distributing. But on Aug. 3, 2001, the jury awarded Maris Distributing $50 million for the fair market value of the business and $89.7 million in damages for lost sales. The Florida circuit judge erased this latter award immediately after verdict, citing Florida law, then tacked on $22.6 million in interest. Anheuser-Busch vowed to appeal. A claim against Anheuser-Busch for defamation is still pending, said Gary.

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