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Football Fan's Suit Over Rival Team's Secret Taping of Signals Thrown Out

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A federal judge in Newark has dismissed a New York Jets fan's putative class-action suit over the New England Patriots' secret videotaping of rival coaches' signals, holding that tickets carry no guarantee that teams will abide by National Football League rules.

"Plaintiff's subjective expectations regarding how the game would be played and what decisions the respective coaches would make, right or wrong, even if these actions constituted 'cheating,' was not anything that he either received license to or contracted for," Chief Judge Garrett Brown Jr. held on Monday in Mayer v. Belichick, 3:07-cv-04671.

Ticket-holders are entitled to enter the stadium and watch what transpires, but nothing more, Brown said, adding, "there is no remedy at law where the ticket-holder has been granted admission and subsequently complains about the quality, or here, the 'honesty,' of the conduct of the event."

Plaintiff Carl Mayer, a Jets season ticket-holder, sued the Patriots, coach Bill Belichick and the NFL over the team's surreptitious videotaping of the Jets' coaching signals during a game on Sept. 9, 2007. NFL security confiscated a video camera and its tape from a Patriots employee on the team's sideline.

On Sept. 14, 2007, after an internal investigation, the NFL fined Belichick $500,000, and the Patriots $250,000, for violating league rules, which state that "no video recording devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game."

Mayer, a solo lawyer in Princeton, sued on Sept. 28, 2007, claiming the videotaping "violated the contractual expectations and rights of New York Jets ticket-holders who fully anticipated and contracted for a ticket to an honest match played in compliance with all laws, regulations and NFL rules."

Mayer claimed tortious interference with contractual relations and violations of the state Consumer Fraud Act, Deceptive Business Practices Act and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

He sought statutory, punitive and compensatory damages, restitution, equitable relief and attorneys' fees on behalf of fellow season ticket-holders.

An amended complaint, filed on Aug. 18, 2008, claimed that another Patriots employee was discovered videotaping Green Bay Packers coaching signals during a November 2006 game.

In Monday's ruling, Brown cited cases from New Jersey and other jurisdictions holding that the seller of tickets to an entertainment event "does not contract to provide the spectacle, only to license the plaintiff to enter and view whatever event transpires."

Even the Jets, the victim of the signal-snatching, opposed the suit in an amicus curiae brief. "Our fans' disappointment in the discipline should not be the basis for a lawsuit against the NFL or any of its member clubs. Otherwise, there will be no end to the filing of lawsuits by passionate fans who are unhappy with an on-field penalty call or an off-field discipline imposed by the league for an on-field violation of league rules such as occurred in this case," wrote Jets lawyer Paul Nittoly of Drinker, Biddle & Reath in Florham Park.

The lawyer for the Patriots and Belichick, Stephen Orlofsky of Blank Rome in Princeton, did not return a call. NFL lawyer Shep Goldfein of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York declined to comment.

Princeton solo Bruce Afran, who served as plaintiffs' counsel along with Mayer, says no decision has been made whether to appeal. But Afran says Brown seemed to overlook the point that few people would buy tickets if they knew of the Patriots' conduct. "You buy a ticket expecting to see a contest of teams competing on an equal basis. I think the judge has misunderstood this component of the case," he says.

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