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Rams, NFL make final pitch to avoid trial in St. Louis' lawsuit

The league is also asking for a change in venue in the case, and that it be closed to the public

ST. LOUIS — The Los Angeles Rams and National Football League mounted a final effort Wednesday to deny St. Louis' bid for a jury trial in its lawsuit over the team's 2016 relocation.

During a more than two-and-a-half-hour hearing, lawyers for the defendants in the lawsuit made legal arguments as to why the case shouldn't advance to a January 2022 trial, asking St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Christopher McGraugh to strike numerous counts from the lawsuit. Brought by the state-created entity that owns the Dome, the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County, the lawsuit dates to 2017 and alleges that the Rams failed to meet its obligations under the NFL's relocation policy, including by failing to negotiate in good faith on a plan for a Mississippi riverfront stadium and making false statements that induced St. Louis to spend $18 million on that effort.

The league's legal maneuver is known as a motion for summary judgment. Its exact arguments, and those of St. Louis' lawyers, weren't fully known, as filings in the case are under seal.

But NFL attorney John Hall, of Covington & Burling LLP, made the case during the hearing that the league's relocation policy, a key point of interest of St. Louis' lawsuit, contains no promises to a host city that could be enforceable as a contract, including those to negotiate over relocation matters in good faith. The league's policy, Hall said, is "merely conduct which may inform a relocation vote."

And he cited two court rulings in California, involving cases brought by the city of Oakland against the league, saying as much.

Hall also argued that even if the policy was an enforceable contract, "St. Louis is not a third-party beneficiary, and it has no standing to assert claims of breach."

Hall further addressed what is likely to be at the heart of the league's argument at any trial: that St. Louis didn't live up to its lease with the team, as its home, now called the Dome at America's Center, failed to remain a top-tier stadium in the league, eventually, after an arbitration ruling, allowing the Rams to enter a year-to-year lease in 2015.

"This is the stadium that the Rams sought to maintain: the Dome," Hall said. "This is the stadium for which they had a lease agreement, and the Rams lived up to that lease agreement. They weren't the ones who breached it. Their landlord breached it."

"Where in the relocation policy," he continued, "does it say that after one side has breached the lease agreement — failed to live up to its bargain — the other side must negotiate to accept something different and less than what it was promised originally?"

Hall also argued that after January 2015, when news broke of Rams owner Stan Kroenke's interest in a Los Angeles site for a stadium, St. Louis officials should have known Kroenke would move the team and refrain from spending money on the Mississippi riverfront stadium project.

The league sought to toss claims of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation and tortious interference with business expectancy.

McGraugh said he would issue a written opinion on the league's motion for summary judgment.

The league is also asking the court for a change in venue in the case. A hearing on that request is scheduled for Aug. 31. The league is asking that it be closed to the public.

Read the full story on the Business Journal's website by clicking here.

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