Outfield Rooftop seats located across N. Sheffield Avenue from the right outfield allow patrons to view the games at Wrigley Field Stadium in Chicago. (Credit: dmfoss/iStockphoto.com)
Whether it’s on the baseball diamond or in the courtroom, the Chicago Cubs are on a roll.
After completing August with a club record 22 wins on the field, the venerable Major League Baseball franchise started September with a victory of the legal variety in their long-simmering battle with the owners of the rooftop bleachers across the street from Wrigley Field.
A federal judge in Chicago dismissed Thursday the rooftop owners’ attempt to file a new suit contesting the installation of video boards atop the historic stadium’s ivy-covered outfield walls. The decision was also a victory for Kirkland & Ellis, which represents the Cubs.
A year ago this month, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall dismissed the first suit brought by a group of rooftop owners who claimed that the Cubs breached antitrust laws and a revenue-sharing agreement between the parties by installing two massive video boards blocking some of their views.
The rooftop owners had asked to file an amended complaint with evidence that Tom Ricketts, the Cubs’ owner, had purchased a number of rooftop businesses. A new complaint would have named Ricketts and a business he owns, arguing they broke antitrust laws by “monopolizing” the rooftop business.
But Kendall dismissed that attempt, ruling that the evidence of Ricketts’ ownership was public knowledge and that Ricketts was also protected from antitrust claims by a longstanding antitrust exemption enjoyed by MLB.
“The Rooftops’ proposed amendments are futile,” Kendall wrote in her 13-page ruling.
Kirkland senior litigation partner Andrew Kassof, who represented the Cubs with antitrust partner Daniel Laytin and associate Diana Watral, declined to comment on the matter.
Right Field Rooftops LLC’s attorney, James Figliulo of Chicago’s Figliulo & Silverman, said his clients would appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
The appeal will center on language in the contract between the Cubs and rooftop owners that permitted the rooftops’ operation—and views of the field—in exchange for 17 percent of rooftop revenue. Kendall ruled the “expansion” of the video boards was allowable because the city of Chicago signed off on it, which was a term in the agreement allowing expansions for Wrigley Field.
“That is just not correct,” Figliulo said of calling the video boards an expansion of the stadium. “At the very least it would be an ambiguity that should be resolved by a trier of fact.”
Figliulo also said he would contest the application of the MLB antitrust exemption to an owner of a league franchise, such as Ricketts, and that he would attack the antitrust exemption as a whole.
“That exemption has run its course. It’s time to change,” Figliulo said. “Major League Baseball should not be entitled to any protection for its anticompetitive conduct any more than any other sports league should be.”
Thursday’s ruling was the latest in a string of victories for the Cubs in the case.
Before last season began, the rooftops had sought a temporary injunction to block the installation of the video boards. But Kendall denied that attempt and another for a permanent injunction. The video boards went up, and last year Cubs rookie phenom Kyle Schwarber famously launched a home run that landed atop one of the new video boards in a playoff series victory against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs, whose general counsel is former Kirkland associate Lydia Wahlke, are preparing for another postseason trip with a 15-game lead in the division over the archrival Cardinals as of Thursday. With the rooftops promising to appeal in the coming weeks, the Cubs’ lawyers will be busy into October as well.
Whether it’s on the baseball diamond or in the courtroom, Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs are on a roll. The team and its lawyers from Kirkland & Ellis won another fight in the long-running battle with the rooftop owners across the street from Wrigley Field.