ACC Files Appeal in FSU Fight

TALLAHASSEE — Warning of a legal “collision course,” the Atlantic Coast Conference on Wednesday asked a Tallahassee-based appeals court to put on hold a lawsuit filed by Florida State University against the conference while a similar case plays out in North Carolina.

Attorneys for the conference filed a 54-page petition at the 1st District Court of Appeal that said the North Carolina case has priority because it was filed before the Florida lawsuit. The petition came after Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper refused to issue a stay of the Florida lawsuit.

The petition cited what is known as a legal “principle of priority” and said the North Carolina and Florida cases both involve similar questions about sports media contracts and rights.

“In this high-profile lawsuit over the interpretation of college sports contracts, the trial court (Cooper) committed a judicial foul,” the petition said. “It ignored this (appeals) court’s binding precedent on the principle of priority that requires staying this case pending the disposition of a priority North Carolina lawsuit between the same parties over the same contracts.”

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The petition was the latest twist in months of legal battling, with FSU widely believed to be seeking to leave the ACC to move to a more-lucrative conference such as the Big Ten or the Southeastern Conference. FSU essentially contends the ACC has shortchanged its members through television contracts.

FSU filed its lawsuit Dec. 22 in Leon County challenging what it describes as more than $500 million in penalties if it wants to exit the conference. But the day before the Leon County case was filed, the conference filed a lawsuit in North Carolina against FSU about many of the same issues.

The ACC filed a motion for a stay of the Florida lawsuit, but Cooper rejected the idea during an April hearing and followed up with a May 6 written order. He said he disagreed with the ACC’s arguments about priority, in part because the conference rushed to file the North Carolina lawsuit before FSU filed its case in Leon County.

“I find based on the record and within the court’s jurisdiction that there are additional (and in fact extraordinary) circumstances warranting denial of the requested stay,” Cooper wrote. “Specifically, I find the North Carolina action to be an ‘anticipatory filing’ done in express anticipation of the FSU Board’s (Board of Trustees’) lawsuit in Florida, and that the anticipatory filing is in the nature of forum shopping that cannot be supported with a stay of these proceedings.”

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FSU sought dismissal of the North Carolina lawsuit or, as an alternative, a stay. But Louis Bledsoe, chief business court judge in Mecklenburg County, N.C., rejected FSU’s requests in April.

In denying the stay, Bledsoe wrote that the “ACC did not engage in improper conduct or ‘procedural fencing’ in filing this action in North Carolina. Accordingly, considering all of the facts and circumstances surrounding the filing of this action and the Florida action, the court concludes, in the exercise of its discretion, that the ACC’s choice of forum is entitled to deference on this record.”

FSU appealed Bledsoe’s ruling in North Carolina, where the conference is based.

In the ACC petition filed Wednesday at the 1st District Court of Appeal, the conference’s attorneys wrote that “the North Carolina court found that there was nothing improper with a North Carolina organization filing a suit over a North Carolina contract when it was virtually certain that its counter-party (FSU) intended to breach that contract.”

“In this (Florida) case, because there is zero evidence of undue delay in North Carolina, the trial court (Cooper) was required to issue a priority-based stay,” the petition said. “But instead of following Florida law, the trial court refused to do so and put Florida courts on a collision course with North Carolina courts, subjecting the ACC to irreparable harm warranting … review.”


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