Judge rejects Rams’ motion to move trial over leaving St. Louis out of St. Louis

(The Center Square) – St. Louis Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh has rejected a request by lawyers from the NFL, the Rams and Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke to move a scheduled January trial over the team’s 2016 departure to Los Angeles out of St. Louis

After a closed-door hearing Tuesday, McGraugh dismissed a change-of-venue motion by defendants in the 52-page 2017 lawsuit filed by the St. Louis Regional Convention & Sports Complex Authority (RCSCA), St. Louis and St. Louis County that claims NFL team owners broke their own rules, established decades ago to avoid antitrust liability and lied about the franchise’s departure from St. Louis.

The Rams played in Edward Jones Dome for 21 years, from 1995 through the 2015 season.

The lawsuit maintains the NFL broke the league’s relocation rules by allowing the Rams to leave St. Louis in 2016, alleging breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation and “tortious interference with business expectancy” by misleading the public about the Rams’ intentions of staying in St, Louis.

The lawsuit claims the Rams’ departure cost St. Louis and St. Louis County millions in amusement, ticket and earnings tax revenue, citing the NFL’s and Rams’ efforts to downplay Kroenke’s purchase of land in Inglewood, the site of the team’s current stadium in Los Angeles County, while stringing along the city, county and RCSCA about staying in St. Louis.

Plaintiffs are seeking damages “in the billions” for expenses incurred in their “good faith effort” to keep the Rams in St. Louis and a share of the Rams’ enhanced value resulting from relocation.

Defendants’ attorney Robert Haar argued Tuesday that jurors selected from the St. Louis area would not be impartial because they “have an interest in the outcome,” noting that in addition to the loss of jobs and economic development that the Rams generated for two decades, their sudden departure is cited in the suit as a blow to civic pride.

McGraugh said Haar’s clients had nearly four years to seek a change-of-venue but are only doing so now, four months before the trial begins.

He said the NFL and Rams’ defend the move out of St. Louis by citing a lack of support from area residents, but are now saying area residents have so much of an interest in the outcome that the case can’t be heard in St. Louis.

“What you’re asking me to do is presume jurors have an interest that I don’t know they have,” McGraugh said, noting any such biases can be ferreted out during jury selection and that some jury summonses have already been sent to St. Louis residents in advance of the trial.

Before issuing his ruling, McGraugh closed his courtroom for about an hour because defendants said their case for relocation would “exacerbate” what they contend is unfair publicity

Tuesday’s hearing was the third since June before McGraugh as the slow-moving lawsuit works its way toward trial

In June, the NFL, Rams and Kroenke filed a nine-page motion before McGraugh to dismiss. There was a three-hour Aug. 25 hearing on the motion but McGraugh hasn’t ruled.

The NFL contends St. Louis and St. Louis County have no right to any profits from the Rams’ move because they are ineligible to collect the $550 million relocation fee the Rams paid other NFL franchises and they contributed nothing to development the $5 billion SoFi Stadium at Hollywood Park in Inglewood.

In the motion, the NFL notes a California judge in April 2020 dismissed Oakland’s 2018 federal antitrust suit against the Raiders and the NFL over the team’s move to Las Vegas. The judge ruled Oakland was not entitled to damages.

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