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NFL, Rams seek summary judgment in relocation case

In the legal dispute between St. Louis and the pro football franchise that abandoned St. Louis, the Rams and the NFL are seeking victory without a trial.

The effort comes from what’s known as a motion for summary judgment, a common technique by which the defendant(s) in a civil lawsuit claim that there’s no need for a trial, because there’s no factual dispute that requires a jury to decide what actually happened.

Via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the NFL and the Rams argue that the league’s relocation policy represents a set of voluntary guidelines that “may” be considered by owners when evaluating potential moves. The defendants also contend that the relocation rules don’t create the basis for any type of contract between the league and the cities in which NFL teams reside.

Somehow, the materials filed by the league ended up not being submitted under seal, allowing the Post-Dispatch to obtain them before they became protected. The paperwork filed by the league includes excerpts from deposition testimony of key figures in the case, including Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

According to the Post-Dispatch, the materials confirm that Kroenke is on the hook for all financial costs incurred by the league and its other 31 teams as a result of the relocation litigation.

The original lawsuit, filed in 2017, alleges breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation, and tortious interference with business expectancy. Critical facts will include efforts by the Rams to downplay Kroenke’s purchase of land in Inglewood, California that became the site of the team’s current stadium and allegedly insincere consideration of potential stadium proposals in St. Louis.

As noted by the Post-Dispatch, Rams executive Kevin Demoff said at the time Kroenke purchased the property that it is “not a piece of land that’s any good for a football stadium,” that there’s a “one-in-million chance” the Rams will move there, and that Kroenke “is still looking at lots of pieces of land around the world right now and none of them are for football teams.

The case is set to go to trial in January, just as the L.A. stadium hosts its first Super Bowl. The league could prevail as to some of the pending counts, narrowing the issues that a jury would consider at trial. Although it could be a challenge to prove that the league assumed contractual obligations to St. Louis in the absence of, you know, a contract, the law routinely recognizes obligations based on promises made, at least as it relates to losses arising from reasonable reliance on broken promises.