Things are moving along in the North American Soccer League anti-trust suit versus U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer. When we last left the case off, the USSF and MLS had declined to file a motion to dismiss, and instead answered the complaint. That meant that discovery could begin to proceed, subject to the parties submitting proposed schedules for the remainder of the case. The parties did that last week, and well, let’s just say they have a difference of opinion on the time needed for this case to proceed to trial. Let’s take a look.
As you can see almost from the jump, the parties wildly diverge on the timeline for a trial in this case. Why such a divergent schedule? Well, the parties have different interests. Let’s go through those reasoning from each side, staring with the plaintiffs.
The NASL’s position is pretty straight-forward. They’ve ceased operations, and whether you believe that’s their fault, or the fault of the USSF, the bottom line is that they want to be back in business for the 2019 season if possible, or 2020 if necessary.
First off: From where we are (June), trial date in December is EXTREMELY aggressive when the parties haven’t conducted discovery, done depositions and the like. This would be the case in just about any civil litigation context of any significant complexity. That’s not to say it’s not doable, but it is a VERY tight timeline. NASL’s reasoning for this is certainly valid, but allowing attorneys sufficient time to prepare for trial takes precedence I think. NASL understood that, which is why they did (wisely) propose an alternative trial date.
May 2019 is about a year from now, and more lines up with a “normal” schedule for trial. Of course this case has been going on for about 9 months, but it was delayed due to the argument over the preliminary injunction, a process which took longer than NASL was hoping for.
Meanwhile, the defendants proposed a trial date of…sometime in late 2019? They don’t actually specify a trial date for some reason. In theory, they could be wanting this to bleed into 2020. It’s fair to say that USSF/MLS engage in a bit of…let’s call it hyperbole in their (not particularly relevant) opening, with a dash of mean-girl snark.
First off, I’m loving the use of italics to accentuate the snark. That said, the defendants are correct about the aggressive timeline, which is why it was wise of the plaintiffs to propose an alternate trial date. Interestingly, USSF disclosed that they are willing to accept an application for NASL to start play in 2019 through August, if they (substantially) comply the PLS requirements.
First off, the judge wasn’t persuaded with the Division III argument from the USSF when the parties were arguing about the preliminary injunction, so I’m not sure including it here in a throwaway line is going to win them any points. From the ruling on the preliminary injunction:
Secondly, I don’t know if the judge is going to be impressed with USSF disclosing they made an offer to the NASL about a 2019 application process on May 30, a whole day before this scheduling conference letter was to be sent to the court. And that ignores that NASL is in fact suing because they don’t agree with the authority of USSF to impose these standards in the first place (or at least a number of them).
With that in mind, we now have news that the court Magistrate has expedited a scheduling conference between the parties, moving it from June 28 to June 7th. That is quite a jump in time, and probably says that the Court wants to get this case moving, one way or the other. That was welcome news to the NASL (though it was noted that is too early to celebrate), as stated by a spokesman for the New York Cosmos:
The date for the hearing before judge and jury could be December this year, as we requested, October 2019, as USSF requested or sometime in between. Of course, we are pleased that the Magistrate agreed to save three weeks and move his hearing on scheduling up to June 7th.
If I had to guess, neither party is going to get exactly what they want, but I’d lean towards NASL getting something close to their alternative date in May 2019. If NASL makes a really persuasive case, perhaps it could be even sooner. We’ll know in a couple of days.