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NFL suffers setback in Rams relocation litigation

Mike Florio reacts to Kyle Shanahan saying he was upset when the Los Angeles Rams landed Matthew Stafford and explains why Shanahan should follow Bill Belichick's lead and 'zip it.'

The massive lawsuit filed by St. Louis against the NFL over the relocation of the Rams will (barring a settlement) culminate with a full-blown trial, which is due to begin just as the Rams prepare to host a Super Bowl in their new stadium. Along the way, the two sides will engage in many battles. Today, St. Louis scored a major victory in one of them.

Via Randy Karraker of 101 ESPN, a judge has ruled that the plaintiffs in the litigation shall have access to information regarding the financial worth of Commissioner Roger Goodell and five NFL owners: Rams owner Stan Kroenke, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Giants owner John Mara, and former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

The outcome has significance in large part because really rich people never want to be forced to disclose details about what they have. For a judge to tell six of the wealthiest men in America that they must turn over that information represents the kind of slap in the face that folks holding that kind of power and money rarely if ever experience.

The reason for the conclusion has significance as well. The judge, who made the ruling from the bench (which means the evidence pointing to it was clear), concluded that clear and convincing proof exists to support a finding that those individuals operated in a fraudulent manner. As to the rest of the owners, St. Louis has 10 days to present evidence supporting that they should be forced to surrender their financial information as well.

The financial information has relevance as to the question of punitive damages. If a jury ultimately decides that the NFL and one or more owners operated in a way that justifies an award over and above the money actually lost by the St. Louis plaintiffs because of the move, the financial worth of the defendant becomes critical to determining proper punishment. The more money someone has, the greater the award needed to punish those individuals for engaging in bad behavior and deterring others in the future from conducting themselves in a similar manner.

So, in other words, the judge is satisfied that enough evidence exists as to the individuals listed above for a reasonable jury to conclude that an award of punitive damages should be entered against them. That conclusion alone suggests that plenty of evidence exists to support that someone from the NFL and/or one of its teams said or did something that he shouldn’t have said or done in connection with the relocation of the Rams.

Part of the evidence includes a phone call from 2013 between Kroenke, Goodell, Mara, and Steelers owner Art Rooney (it’s unclear based on Karraker’s tweets whether Rooney is required to surrender his financial information at this point). During the conversation, Kroenke said, “I’m going to buy two parcels of land and build a stadium in L.A.,” and that he’s trying very hard to stay under the radar screen and keep it hidden. Goodell said, “We will respect your confidentiality.”

Rams COO Kevin Demoff later gave Goodell talking points regarding the land purchase for his pre-Super Bowl press conference in 2014. Here’s part of what he said, at a time when Goodell already knew that Kroenke intended to build a stadium on the land he had purchased:“Stan is a very successful developer. He has billions of dollars of projects that are going on around the country in real estate development. So I think instead of overreacting, we should make sure we do what’s necessary to continue to support the team locally as the fans have done in St. Louis. And make sure we do whatever we can to make sure that team is successful in the St. Louis market. . . . There are no plans to my knowledge of a stadium development.” (Emphasis added.)

Also, Jones admitted during his deposition in the case that he urged Kroenke to move the Rams. One day after the vote approving the move happened, the Rams signed a contract with Legends Hospitality (partially owned by Jones) to sell PSLs and luxury suites.

Karraker’s tweets have one other fascinating tidbit, in light of prior claims made by the NFL in the litigation. But since it’s sort of slow and because I’d like to keep these blurbs short, I’ll do a separate item on it a little later.