As was to be expected, the Rams departure from St. Louis will not come without its struggles. Only one day after the NFL owners voted to allow the Rams to relocate from St. Louis to Los Angeles, four Rams fans filed a lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court seeking class-action status and an unspecified amount of damages for improper statements made by Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff. The suit was filed by St. Louis attorney Steven J. Stolze, who defended the action by stating that it is “not about sour grapes. It’s based upon what we believe is a valid claim under the law.”
According to the lawsuit, Kroenke and Demoff made several false and misleading statements over the years when they told the fans that they had no intention of leaving the city of St. Louis. As evidence, the plaintiffs point to a 2010 interview with Kroenke where he stated: “It’s not our desire to ever lead the charge out of St. Louis. … I’m going to attempt to do everything I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis,” and a statement by Demoff that the he expected the future of the Rams “will be right here in St. Louis.” Demoff also wrote on the Rams website “our goal is to build a winner in St. Louis not only in 2012, but in 2022, 2032 and beyond.”
The plaintiffs base their legal argument upon Missouri’s Merchandising Practices Act, which prohibits “[t]he act, use or employment by any person of any deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, unfair practice or the concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact in connection with the sale or advertisement of any merchandise in trade or commerce.” The plaintiffs argue that the statements above violated this act by misleading the fans and encouraging them to purchase tickets and merchandise from the team. As such, the lawsuit claims that anyone who purchased Rams’ tickets or merchandise between 2010 and 2015 is entitled to damages.
The first legal hurdle for these four fans and their lawyer is successfully certifying class action status. Under Missouri state law, a class may be formed when:
“One or more members of a class may sue or be sued as representative parties on behalf of all only if (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable, (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class, (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class, and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.” Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 52.08
The Rams will certainly combat the maintenance of a class action in the instant case, and at this early stage it is difficult to predict the outcome. The Rams might soon find themselves fighting another serious legal battle in Missouri, as it is possible that the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority could sue the team for damages based upon the $16 million dollars that has already been spent on plans for a new riverfront stadium in St. Louis. When asked about the possibility if litigation, the co-Chairmen of the task force declined to comment. So while the football team may finally be moving to Los Angeles, they should expect to spend some significant time in Missouri courtrooms as well.