NFL sued over Chargers' relocation from San Diego
Speaker 1: (00:01)
Football fans are still buzzing after an exciting and memorable weekend of NFL playoff games. One team that was not involved in any of those games was the chargers and one city that definitely wasn't was San Diego. The chargers left town for Los Angeles back in 2017. Here's then San Diego may Kevin Faulkner the day, the team, they were leaving San Diego. After 56 years,
Speaker 2: (00:24)
San Diego didn't lose the chargers. The chargers just lost San Diego. They're losing out on our strong marketplace. They're losing out on our unmatched quality of life. And probably most importantly, they're losing out on 56 years of dedication of loyalty of family.
Speaker 1: (00:46)
A new lawsuit was filed Monday, accusing the national football league and its owners of violating relocation terms with the city of San Diego. The complaint was filed by former San Diego city, attorney Michael Geary and former deputy city attorney Marie Severson on behalf of San Diego resident, Ruth Hendricks here to tell us more is Jeff McDonald investigative reporter with the San Diego union Tribune. Jeff welcome.
Speaker 3: (01:12)
Good morning, Jade.
Speaker 1: (01:13)
So you write that the complaint filed against the NFL and team owners begins with a quote from chargers owners, Dean Spano saying only in the case of severe financial hardship for the team defined by very narrow, specific and confining conditions. Could we request to renegotiate with the city? Uh, can you tell us more about the complaint and what it's alleging? So
Speaker 3: (01:37)
I think the, uh, plaintiff's, uh, attorneys led their complaint with that quote because it's so, uh, aply summarizes their allegations, which are that neither the chargers or the NFL and the other team owners satisfied the league relocation rules. One of the rules in the relocation policy states that the team has to not be, uh, financially viable in the, in the market. It's choosing to leave the, so it can't be profitable and make a legitimate argument for leaving a, a city according to the league's own relocation policy. So the plaintiff's attorneys are using that as exhibit a in, in the alleged bad faith negotiations with the city. And remind
Speaker 1: (02:18)
Us again, what led the chargers to leave San Diego?
Speaker 3: (02:21)
Well, the FAOs family wanted a new stadium. It's no secret. They worked with city officials for, uh, a dozen years or more trying to, uh, either upgrade, uh, Qualcomm stadium, Jack Murphy stadium, or find a new location somewhere in San Diego county. Uh, their argument was that they couldn't compete with the bigger market teams that have stadiums and lots of revenue you from luxury boxes and things like that. The league shares a lot of its TV, uh, income and, and other regular income equally among all 32 owners. But the teams do make their own money on things like luxury seating and other amenities that San Diego didn't enjoy at Qualcomm stadium.
Speaker 1: (03:03)
Hmm. So, so did the chargers or the NFL pay the city when they left?
Speaker 3: (03:07)
No, that's part of the allegation is that the, uh, the city spent millions of dollars trying to accommodate the chargers, working with them on a number of fronts over a number of years, trying to keep them chargers in San Diego, they approved the ticket guarantee. They upgraded Qualcom stadium. They formed a, a citizens task force. They presented the team, a development option in mission valley to offset construction cost for a new stadium on that, on that acreage, none of which the chargers ran with and they left for Los Angeles, uh, of course, five years ago, thinking they could, uh, make more money.
Speaker 1: (03:42)
Hmm. And interesting is the lawsuit wasn't filed by the city of San Diego. In fact, the city is named as a defendant. So who is the plaintiff? And how is the city involved?
Speaker 3: (03:53)
The plaintiff is a taxpayer named Ruth Hendricks. She's, uh, represented by former city attorney IAH, Gary, and his law partner, Maria Severson. They hope to recover damages that would go directly to the city. Now the city is named as a defendant, although that's a necessary legal procedure, uh, that's required in a taxpayer lawsuit. I don't believe the city will be adversarial in its, uh, relation to this complaint. In fact, the mayor and city attorney issued a joint statement yesterday, basically saying, you know, good luck to a Gary and Severson
Speaker 1: (04:28)
And San Diego. Isn't the first city, the NFL has left the Rams, also relocated to Los Angeles, leaving my hometown St. Louis after some 20 years. And they also filed suit against the Rams in, in the NFL. Uh, what happened in that instance? Well,
Speaker 3: (04:44)
The lawyer who litigated that, who came up with the legal argument, they won a nearly 800 million settlement from the NFL, which of course is huge news. And, uh, the lawyer who came up with that strategy, alleged that they violated the relocation policy, some of the same arguments that, uh, Mr or Gary and Ms, uh, seaman put forward in their complaint this week. So they're basically co-opting that legal strategy, this 800, 790 million settlement that the city of St Louis received last year basically was a, a, a huge motivator. And, uh, some lawyers in San Diego think why not us? So they're gonna try and get their share from the, uh, you know, the NFL in the two chargers. And is
Speaker 1: (05:22)
That why this suit, uh, is being filed now? You think,
Speaker 3: (05:25)
Yes, according to the complaint, they only learned about this misrepresentation and fraud late last year when they learned that, uh, union Tribu columnist, Bryce, uh, Miller quoted a former charger's executive saying that, uh, Mr. Spans had made up his mind to leave San Diego as early as 2006. So their argument is going to be that, uh, the statute of limitations don't get triggered until you learn of the fraud. So in that way, they can, uh, explain to a court why they waited five years to file this case.
Speaker 1: (05:57)
Mm. So what are legal experts saying about the lawsuit? Do they believe the lawsuit has merit?
Speaker 3: (06:03)
I haven't talked to a, a lot of lawyers outside the two that brought this complaint. I can tell you, they feel satisfied that they're on firm, legal footing based on the outcome in St. Louis and consult. They've had with a number of other lawyers across the country. You know, it's a long shot. The NFL has the best paid lawyers in, in the nation. And, uh, it, it's a, it's a, it's a big lift. Uh, however, they're not reinventing the will here either. So it'll be interesting to see how it plays out.
Speaker 1: (06:34)
You know, how have city officials reacted to the law
Speaker 3: (06:37)
Lawsuit? They noted that it's a, that it's a tough legal sled, right? This is, uh, this is the NFL they're multi-billion dollar corporation. Uh, that said, I think the outcome in St. Louis has given them, uh, some confidence that they might succeed, although the city attorneys, uh, and the cities officials have not dedicated any public resources to this effort, which I find interesting.
Speaker 1: (07:01)
Hmm. Uh, now we know how the legal process can take a long time to be resolved. What's the next step for this complaint?
Speaker 3: (07:09)
Uh, well, the entities will be, the defendants will be served, uh, and they'll have to respond and they'll be some hearing set. Probably the defendants will file motion to dismiss based on a number of legal, uh, grounds. And, uh, if the case surpasses that hurdle, uh, that's what happened in St. Louis. That's when the negotiations for settlement started, uh, this can take years. Of course, there's a lot of issues to run through. And of course the NFL would wanna limit any damages at all. The plaintiffs would wanna look at damages along the lines of what St. Louis received. So there's a lot of money at stake. The big question will be whether it survives, whether the lawsuit survives its initial motions to dismiss on whatever legal grounds the defendants put forward. All
Speaker 1: (07:53)
Right. Jeff McDonald, an investigative reporter with the San Diego union Tribune. Jeff, thank you so much much for joining us. Thank you.
A lawsuit has been filed against the National Football League alleging that the league and officials with the Chargers violated NFL relocation policies when team owners approved the Chargers' move from San Diego to Los Angeles.
The suit was filed by former San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre and former San Diego Chief Deputy City Attorney Maria Severson on behalf of San Diego resident Ruth Henricks. The league, all NFL team owners and the city of San Diego are named as defendants.
According to the suit, a demand was made to the city of San Diego to file suit, but "with no response, this taxpayer action is filed."
The suit filed Monday in San Diego Superior Court alleges that even with the team taking millions in taxpayer dollars and despite numerous efforts from city leaders to keep the team in San Diego, Chargers owner Dean Spanos "had already made up his mind to move the team to Los Angeles" by 2006.
The complaint cites a quote from former NFL official Jim Steeg, who told the San Diego Union-Tribune last month that Spanos had already planned the relocation, "It just took him 10 years to do it."
Spanos told Chargers fans in a 1997 public statement that the team would remain in San Diego unless the franchise suffered "severe financial hardship," yet according to the lawsuit, Spanos "broke his word" two decades later and announced the Los Angeles move despite the Chargers being worth more than $1 billion as of 2017.
The lawsuit alleges the NFL and the Chargers breached the league's relocation policy by failing to negotiate in good faith with city officials over retaining the team locally and concealing that a move was in the works since 2006.
It alleges that despite "a substantial expenditure of public funds" related to establishing a new San Diego stadium or upgrading the existing stadium, "there were no good faith negotiations from the Chargers or the NFL" and "the team did not meet with the community nor the city in any meaningful way."
Mayor Todd Gloria and City Attorney Mara Elliott issued a joint statement that said, "Suing the National Football League is a costly and uphill battle, as Mr. Aguirre himself has stated in interviews, and his lawsuit on behalf of taxpayers is at its earliest stage. Given that city taxpayers would be the recipient of any damages and restitution the court may award if litigation prevails, we wish Mr. Aguirre success in this effort."
A hearing in the case is set for July.