Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Ends Do Not Justify the Means in MLB's Current PED Investigation

I am excited to have been invited to become a contributor to Sports Law Blog, and this is my first post, where I will look at topics that involve the intersection of legal ethics and professional responsibility with sports law. For this post, what follows are my opinions about and understanding of MLB’s current PED Investigation.

One of the things that trial lawyers think about in regards to investigating facts is whether we can get relevant information, but also whether we can do so ethically and pursuant to applicable law, and if so, whether we can use it, i.e., is it admissible or can we use it to gain admissible evidence? The NCAA forgot this in regards to the University of Miami, and MLB has forgotten this in regards to its current PED investigation.

MLB and MLBPA have a Collective Bargaining Agreement, and they have a Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program that in part “provide[s] for, in keeping with the overall purposes of the Program, an orderly, systematic, and cooperative resolution of any disputes that may arise concerning the existence, interpretation, or application of this Program. Except as otherwise provided herein, any dispute arising under the Program shall be subject to resolution through the Grievance Procedure of the Basic Agreement.” The CBA and the Joint Program are neither MLB’s nor MLBPA’s: They are their mutually negotiated and agreed to contracts governed by federal labor law.

Rather than follow the Joint Program, MLB filed a straw-man lawsuit in Florida state court for what appears to be the sole purpose of obtaining discovery that it could not otherwise have obtained, which is per se an improper purpose, I believe. We can surmise that was the purpose, because in exchange for the information it wanted, MLB apparently settled with the primary defendant and indemnified him against claims by the players. Clearly, all MLB wanted was information, and its claim for tortious interference was simply a front. MLB’s billion dollar weight was thrown against defendants without apparent financial means, who would have been expected to cave and did. To date, while apparently leaking information to the media as to whom is going to be suspended or who is under suspicion, MLB has not followed any part of the Joint Program, or at least none that has been reported. Certainly, the Joint Program doesn’t provide for discovery lawsuits against third-parties, and, instead, it specifically requires that the “[Joint] Program shall be subject to resolution through the Grievance Procedure of the Basic Agreement.” If there is reasonable cause to believe that a player has violated the Joint Program, notice to and testing of the player is a required prerequisite, yet that has assumedly not occurred, because MLB has no such “reasonable cause,” which is presumably why it went on its fishing hunt in the first place. If MLB thought it needed additional avenues for discovery, it was free to negotiate that with MLBPA, yet it did not do so.

With this apparently extortionate power that comes with the Goliath versus David lawsuit, and with no one, not even the players or the Union, taking action to stop them, MLB may have interfered with the players’ right to keep confidential their medical information under both federal and state law, and the Florida state court has just ordered that such medical records be returned immediately to one of the deponents in the case. Moreover, according to news reports, MLB’s attorneys may have violated Model Rule 3.4 through their client’s payment for records and testimony, not to mention their client indemnifying the primary defendant, which should subject that ill-gotten information or testimony to evidentiary exclusion, and which may expose MLB’s lawyers to grievances before the attorney regulatory agencies of the applicable states. On the sidelines, MLB, either directly or through the teams, appears to be coercing the minor league players to roll over. They are not even members of the Union, unless they’re on the 40-Man Roster, so imagine how “cooperative” their cooperation really is, when they are being compelled to speak under what one may imagine is at least an implied threat of suspension or termination.

MLB filed its lawsuit for tortious interference with a collective bargaining agreement, when there is no such tort—they just made it up. The players’ contracts are with the teams, and if one wanted to make a tortious interference claim for those contracts, the individual teams would be the appropriate plaintiffs. Labor law is the exclusive province of the federal courts, yet MLB filed in state court, and to make dumb dumber, the Florida state court has noted that it probably lacks subject matter jurisdiction, yet it is waiting for one of the defendants (versus third-party deponents) to make a motion to dismiss on the basis of standing, when no one has standing, if the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction (in which case, the court is supposed to dismiss the case on its own).

What is clear in my opinion is that MLB’s foray into Florida state court is frivolous under Civil Rule 11 and other related sanctions tools. I am published on and edited the leading treatise on this topic. MLB seems to have filed a bogus lawsuit in the wrong jurisdiction against people who have no ability to fight back, it seems to have illegally or unethically obtained confidential information and testimony from them, it seems to have used this material to smear odd-numerous professional baseball players without ever making formal accusations against them, it seems to have leaked to the Press that it has already prejudged these players, whose rights to respond under the Joint Program have been rendered meaningless, and so on. If I was designing a frivolous case example for a law school text book, this would fit the bill, where there seems to be no good-faith basis in law or fact for the lawsuit, and where the lawsuit seems to have been filed for an improper purpose.

If the NCAA was behaving this way, we’d all expect its poor judgment, but MLB? What are they thinking? So if MLB is trying to litigate a bogus dispute in the wrong place, why are they doing that? You may recall that the NCAA wrongfully got information from a civil suit in Florida, too. How about MLB? Is it trying to secure and securing discovery by these wrongful means to use against the players? And where does MLB plan on using this information against players? In the context of its labor agreements before a labor arbitrator!

Sooner or later, either the players or the Union are going to file a federal court action to declare what is obvious, which is that MLB is constrained by the agreements it negotiated, that it cannot violate HIPPA and/or various state laws regarding medical confidentiality and privacy, that it cannot file frivolous lawsuits, and that it cannot taint evidence by unethically paying for it, if not also coercing or extorting it, and then still expect to be able to use it. The same result will happen if any of the defendants remove the current lawsuit to federal court, or if the players or the Union intervene and do the same.

The players who have already been smeared should have already intervened, as they have nothing to lose now, the Union should have intervened by now to protect the integrity of the process it negotiated and agreed to, and both the players and the Union should be seeking an injunction against MLB from using any of its ill-gotten information or any fruits from the same. There is no principled argument that can be made to allow MLB to use unethically or illegally obtained so-called evidence. And the larger public policy issue is that collective bargaining agreements between very sophisticated parties must be followed rather than eluded, especially when they are being eluded for apparently improper purposes. Certainly, the players and the Union should be seeking an injunction to compel compliance with the CBA and the Joint Program.