Alex Rodriguez's lawsuit against MLB and Commissioner Bud Selig raises a whole host of issues. Fasten your seatbelts because this promises to be a long and bumpy ride.
What Is Tortious Interference?
Tortuous interference is legal cause of action based on the principle that "everyone has a right to enjoy the fruits and advantages of his own enterprise, industry and skill, free from unjustified and wrongful interference." If this right is violated, the victim is entitled to monetary damages to put him in the position he would have been in had the wrongful interference never occurred.
Rodriguez's lawsuit claims that Selig and MLB have "acted with one, and only one, goal: to improperly marshal evidence that they hope to use to destroy the reputation and career of Alex Rodriguez, one of the most accomplished Major League Baseball players of all time." The suit claims that Selig acted "in an attempt to secure his legacy as the ‘savior' of America's pastime."
Rodriguez claims that the wrongdoing of Selig and MLB has jeopardized at least part of his contract with the Yankees and his ability to earn contractual home-run milestone bonuses. He also argues that the alleged wrongful conduct has damaged his reputation, has harmed him in current business relationships, such as endorsement deals, and has closed the door for future opportunities, such as endorsement deals and TV work.
He is seeking more than compensatory damages. He is asking the court to impose punitive damages on Selig and MLB. Punitive damages are sparingly awarded and are usually reserved for cases of outrageous intentional wrongdoing.
The second issue is timing. Why did he file this suit now, during the first week of the arbitration hearing challenging his 211-game suspension? The timing is curious because New York generally has a three-year statute of limitations and the conduct Rodriguez targets occurred only this year. Thus, there was no legal rush to file.
One obvious possibility is to put pressure on MLB to either drop the suspension or reduce it. While MLB has a stable of first-rate lawyers to defend Selig, this lawsuit could create pressure. Since Selig is the main defendant, this lawsuit gives Rodriguez and his attorneys the opportunity to force Selig to answer written questions (interrogatories) and to testify at pre-trial discovery proceedings (depositions). If MLB and its investigators behaved in underhanded ways during this investigation, these interrogatories and depositions could put Selig in the very uncomfortable position of either justifying their conduct or admitting that even though he is the commissioner, he didn't know what his own people were doing. Another pressure is that Rob Manfred, Selig's heir apparent, was deeply involved in this investigation. If it comes out that it was conducted in an underhanded manner, it may disturb Selig's succession plans.
Pressure is a two-way street. This lawsuit also gives MLB the opportunity to force Rodriguez to answer questions under oath. If he doesn't testify at the arbitration hearing, this lawsuit may be MLB's only chance to question him under oath. Rodriguez's attorneys, however, have crafted their complaint in a clever way that focuses exclusively on the conduct of Selig and MLB investigators. They will resist any questions about PED use by claiming they are irrelevant to the suit.
In some ways, this is similar to a common drug case. If a drug dealer claims that the police found the evidence against him through an illegal search, the hearing challenging that search will focus exclusively on the police conduct. It doesn't matter if the drug dealer is guilty or innocent. In fact, if he testifies at the suppression hearing, most judges won't let the prosecutor even ask him if the drugs were his.
Another possibility is that Rodriguez wants to circumvent the confidentiality provisions of the Joint Drug Agreement and the gag order issued by arbitrator Frederic Horowitz. By filing a lawsuit, Rodriguez gets his version of the story out to the public, arguably without violating the Agreement or the gag order. (MLB disagrees and claims this suit violates the Joint Agreement). Court filings are public record. By filing a lawsuit chock full of juicy allegations against Selig and MLB, Rodriguez ensured that his account would be on the Internet and airwaves within minutes. It may be no coincidence that Rodriguez filed this suit just as the news stories about the pro-Rodriguez demonstrators outside MLB offices had run their course.
A final possibility is that the arbitration hearing is going poorly and Rodriguez wants to have this suit in motion before the hearing ends.
Why Weren't the Yankees Named as Defendants?
Generally, a plaintiff must include the entire controversy in a lawsuit, including all defendants and claims involved in the incident. The answer may be that he intends to add them later if any of the pre-trial discovery implicates them. It may also be that he intends to go after them separately in a malpractice action against the Yankee team doctors that also implicates Yankee executives.
Will This Suit Affect the Arbitration Hearings?
Probably not. While the arbitrator has the power to grant adjournments for good cause, it is unlikely that this lawsuit will be seen as good cause. Lawsuits can take several years from start to finish and Horowitz is unlikely to want to delay this arbitration hearing for the several years it would take for this lawsuit to wind its way through the court system. A stay of the hearing would certainly benefit Rodriguez because his suspension is stayed pending the arbitration hearing. One must wonder, however, how Horowitz will react to a lawsuit that implicitly suggests that he cannot be fair and impartial in assessing MLB's alleged misconduct.
Will the Arbitration Hearing Affect This Suit?
Probably. MLB will probably argue that even if Rodriguez's allegations are true, they constitute grievances under the CBA and the Joint Drug Agreement and, therefore, the filing of a grievance is Rodriguez's sole recourse. Since the courts favor enforcement of contractual grievance procedures, MLB may move to dismiss Rodriguez's suit without prejudice pending the outcome of the grievance process.