NFL fans miffed by the New England Patriots’ secret videotaping
of their opponents’ signals can boycott games or team merchandise,
but they can’t seek legal damages for “Spygate,” a U.S. appeals
court ruled Wednesday.
The appeals panel upheld a district judge’s ruling that
dismissed the suit by lawyer Carl Mayer, a New York Jets season
ticket holder from Princeton, N.J.
Mayer had argued that fans spent large sums to see games that
were essentially rigged, and he sought $185 million in damages for
Jets fans alone. The 3rd Circuit Court didn’t buy it.
“We do not condone the conduct on the part of the Patriots and
the team’s head coach, and we likewise refrain from assessing
whether the NFL’s sanctions (and its alleged destruction of the
videotapes themselves) were otherwise appropriate,” Senior Judge
Robert E. Cowen wrote for the three-judge panel.
However, he said Mayer failed to prove any legal right to
“At best, he possessed nothing more than a contractual right to
a seat from which to watch an NFL game between the Jets and the
Patriots, and this right was clearly honored,” Cowen wrote.
The judges – one a longtime Pittsburgh Steelers fan – had
peppered lawyers with questions in oral arguments in Philadelphia
last month. Cowen called the taping “a horrendous violation.” But
he also thought the league issued “a whopper” of a fine –
$750,000 – against the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick after they
were caught taping signals at the Jets’ 2007 home opener in Giants
The Patriots went on to win 38-14.
Mayer and his lawyer, Bruce Afran, both worked for consumer
advocate Ralph Nader earlier in their careers and consider
“Spygate” a consumer-fraud case.
“It’s a clear issue of consumer fraud. The mere fact that this
is in the context of football doesn’t mean that the people who pay
to see the game have no rights,” Afran said Wednesday.
Many NFL ticket holders struggle to pay the high ticket price
and deserve an honest game in return, he said.
“(The opinion) seems to suggest that no matter how much ticket
holders pay, they can be defrauded by NFL teams. And it puts the
NFL on the same level as professional wrestling,” Afran said.
Mayer plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, buoyed in part
by what he called consumer-friendly rulings involving sports teams
in other circuit courts. For instance, one said Ohio’s
consumer-protection laws apply to statements the Cleveland Browns
made about whether they were staying in town, he said.
“We think the matter might be of interest to the Supreme
Court,” Mayer told The Associated Press. “We never
The suit alleged that the Patriots taped the Jets’ signals in
their twice-yearly contests for seven years, and sought treble
damages for Jets fans based on a rough average of $100 a
The NFL argued that fans likely would buy tickets even if they
knew the Patriots were stealing signals. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello
declined to comment except to say the ruling speaks for itself.
Lawyer Daniel L. Goldberg, representing Belichick and the Patriots,
said the ruling follows a clear line of case law.
“We always viewed this as a frivolous lawsuit, brought to the
court by a Jets season ticket holder who happens to be a lawyer,”
he said in a statement.
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