Quinn Emanuel New York partners Alex Spiro and Luke Nikas are defending tennis star Naomi Osaka and two of her family members in a suit by a Florida trainer, who alleges he is entitled to 20 percent of the athlete’s lifetime earnings.
Spiro and Nikas filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint of Christophe Jean, a coach in Pompano Beach, who claimed he’s owed for work with the athlete before she became one of the world’s top female tennis players.
Jean’s suit in Broward Circuit Court names Osaka, her older sister Mari and father Leonard Francois as defendants. It alleges Jean started training the tennis-playing sisters in 2011, but their family could not afford the private lessons, equipment and tournament-related travel needed to climb to the height of the sport.
As a result, his suit alleges he entered into a contract with the girls’ father in March 2012, when the athletes were 14 and 15 years old, to receive 20 percent of their tennis-related earnings in exchange for his services.
“The agreement provided that the term of the employment shall be indefinite, and the agreement may be terminated by giving three months’ written notice to the other party,” according to the five-page amended complaint.
The suit alleges the clients didn’t pay but also didn’t end the agreement until April 2017, when Osaka was already a rising star who would eventually claim championships in women’s singles at the U.S. and Australian Opens. It alleges breach of contract, quantum meruit and unjust enrichment.
“My client tried to resolve this matter privately with the family on several occasions long before Naomi’s rise to stardom,” plaintiffs counsel Christopher P. Hahn of Maurice Wutscher in Fort Lauderdale said in a statement Tuesday. “Unfortunately, the family has refused to comply with their end of the agreement and my client’s reasonable requests, leaving him no choice but to have his day in court.”
But Osaka’s lawyers have asked the court to dismiss the suit, which they say has broad implications for young athletes, entertainers and prodigies.
“I guess people don’t realize it, but I get calls like this all the time for young talent,” said Quinn Emanuel’s Spiro, whose high-profile Florida cases include representation of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft in a case over allegations of prostitution-solicitation.
“This is not as uncommon of a fact pattern,” Spiro said, referring to the row over Osaka’s earnings.
The motion calls Jean’s claim “repugnant to Florida law and public policy.”
“Florida does not permit child athletes to sign away their lifetime earnings during their infancy,” the Quinn Emanuel litigators argued.
The motion to dismiss alleges Jean’s claims violate basic Florida law, which makes contracts with “infants” voidable when one party wants to end the deal.
“That is exactly what happened here,” according to the defense motion. “Plaintiff’s alleged contract is so repugnant to Florida law and public policy that it would have been rejected even if plaintiff had sought judicial approval of its terms under Florida’s Child Performer and Athlete Protection Act … which he did not even try to do.”
The case is pending before Broward Circuit Judge David A. Haimes.