State of Ohio ex rel. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
Precourt Sports Ventures LLC et al., Defendants-Appellants.
DeWine, Attorney General, Bridget C. Coontz, Randall W.
Knutti, and Samuel C. Peterson, for State of Ohio.
Klein, City Attorney, Joshua T. Cox and Charles P. Campisano;
Bricker & Eckler LLP, Jennifer A. Flint, Drew H.
Campbell, Matthew W. Warnock, and Bryan M. Smeenk, for City
Cavalieri LLC, Dan L. Cvetanovich, James G. Ryan, and Jolene
S. Griffith, for Precourt Sports Ventures LLC, Team Columbus
Soccer LLC, and Crew Soccer Stadium LLC.
Loeser & Parks LLP, Marc J. Kessler, and Jeffrey A.
Yeager; Proskauer Rose LLP, Bradley I. Ruskin, Mark D.
Harris, and Jennifer E. Tarr, for Major League Soccer LLC.
MOTION TO DISMISS APPEAL AND MOTION TO EXPEDITE APPEAL
1} Defendants-appellants, Precourt Sports Ventures
LLC, Major League Soccer LLC, Team Columbus Soccer LLC, and
Crew Soccer Stadium LLC, appeal from an order of the Franklin
County Court of Common Pleas in this action concerning the
prospective relocation of a professional soccer team, the
Columbus Crew SC. The plaintiffs-appellees are the City of
Columbus and the State of Ohio ex rel. Ohio Attorney General
Mike DeWine. The matter is now before the court on
appellees' motion to dismiss the appeal as premature.
Also before us is appellants' unopposed motion to
expedite the appeal.
2} Appellants are organizations involved in the
ownership, management, and operation of the Crew. Precourt
Sports, under Major League Soccer's ownership structure,
is the "operator/investor" for the Crew (Amended
Complaint at ¶ 11), and MLS is the "owner."
Id. at ¶ 12. Appellant Team Columbus Soccer LLC
owns MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, site of the Crew's home
games. Appellant Crew Soccer Stadium LLC leases 15.25 acres
of state-owned property on which the stadium sits.
3} The city and state initiated this matter with a
complaint for declaratory judgment and preliminary and
permanent injunctive relief filed on March 5, 2018, followed
by an amended complaint on March 12, 2018. The amended
complaint anticipates a proposed move of the Crew from
Columbus to Austin, Texas, and seeks to apply R.C. 9.67,
which imposes certain obligations on professional sport teams
operating in Ohio. The general object of the statute is to
restrict the sudden abandonment of Ohio markets and fan bases
by teams that have benefited from tax subsidies or other
public financial assistance. To this end, the statute
requires that such teams provide a six-month advance notice
of any intent to move, and imposes a further obligation to
give local government or investors an opportunity to purchase
4} The amended complaint generally alleges that
Precourt Sports and MLS are subject to R.C. 9.67 because the
Crew has played home games in a tax-supported facility
(MAPFRE Stadium) and accepted financial assistance from the
city and state. The complaint further alleges that Precourt
Sports has announced its intention to move the Crew to Austin
unless the City of Columbus or private investors can provide
guarantees that the Crew will play in a new downtown Columbus
5} According to the complaint, Attorney General
DeWine notified Precourt Sports on December 8, 2017 by letter
that R.C. 9.67 imposed certain obligations on the Crew owners
and affiliated entities, including the requirement to give
six months' notice to the city regarding the team's
intent to stop playing at the publicly supported facility,
and that local purchasers or investors must be given the
opportunity to purchase the team during that period.
6} Appellees filed a motion on April 9, 2018 asking
the trial court to equitably toll the running of the
six-month notice-and-negotiation period of R.C. 9.67. This
request was based on appellants' alleged delaying tactics
during and prior to litigation; appellees contended that this
delaying conduct had the object of neutralizing the statute.
Appellants filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint on
April 19, 2018, asserting that the statute is both
unconstitutional on its face and inapplicable to the Crew
entities. The parties also traded motions to compel and stay
discovery; much of the discovery objected to by appellants
concerned inquiries into the ownership structure and
operational relationships involving the Crew and MLS
7} On May 8, 2018, the Franklin County Court of
Common Pleas entered an order "(1) granting in part
plaintiffs' motion to toll R.C. 9.67; (2) granting in
part defendants' motion to stay discovery; (3) holding
plaintiffs motion to compel discovery in abeyance; and (4)
deferring ruling on defendants' motion to dismiss."
The trial court deferred its decision on the essential issues
raised in appellants' motion to dismiss: "At the
outset, the Court makes clear for the purpose of ruling on
instant motions, the Court is not at this time commenting on
the constitutionality of R.C. 9.67. Nor should it be inferred
in any way from ...