US court dismisses class suit over Pacquiao-Mayweather fight

PAMPANGA, Philippines – Do disappointed fans have the right to sue and seek compensation from an athlete for failure to see his stellar performance during a sport competition? 

The answer: No, they do not. 

The United States District Court in California has dismissed all the civil cases filed against Manny Pacquiao and 7 other defendants related to the “Fight of the Century” Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr fight held on May 2, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The class action lawsuits across the United States that consisted of 26 individual actions and 15 consolidated complaints were merged into a Multi-District Litigation action known as the “Pacquiao-Mayweather Boxing Match Pay-Per-View Litigation” and assigned to the California Central District Court. 

Named defendants in the legal action are Pacquiao, Mayweather, Mayweather Promotions, Top Rank, Inc., Michael Koncz, Robert Arum, Todd DuBoef, and Home Box Office, Inc. 

The complainants alleged that the defendants had misrepresented and did not disclose the fact that Pacquiao had suffered a shoulder injury before the fight to boost ticket sale and make huge profits. They said that had the defendants been informed about the boxer’s injury, they would not have bought tickets nor paid pay-per-view to watch the much ballyhooed fight. 

But in his decision dated August 25, 2017, US District Judge R. Gary Klausner said that while the court is sympathetic to the fact that many boxing fans felt deceived by the statements and omissions made by the fight’s participants and promoters, “the proper remedy for such unscrupulous behavior when it implicates the core of athletic competition is not a legal one.” 

“Disappointed fans may demand that fighters be more transparent in the future, lobby their state athletic commissions to impose more stringent pre-fight medical screenings and disclosure requirements, or even stop watching boxing altogether. They may not, however, sustain a class-action lawsuit,” the judge said in his 11-page decision. 

Judge Klausner said the complainants had “received what they paid” -- the right to view a boxing match between Pacquiao and Mayweather as sanctioned and regulated by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. 

He said “the plaintiffs (complainants) had no legally protected interest or right to see an exciting fight, a fight between two totally healthy and fully prepared boxers, or a fight that lived up to the significant pre-fight hype.” 

“For the foregoing reasons, the Court DISMISSES each and every Complaint in this MDL (multi-district litigation) action for failure to state a claim based on a cognizable injury to a legally protected right or interest,” the judge ruled. 

In his decision, Klausner also granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss each complaint associated with the Pacquiao-Mayweather Boxing Match Pay-Per-View Litigation.

In discussing the case, the district judge said that courts in the US have long been hesitant to recognize a sports fan’s post-event disappointment as a legally cognizable injury as shown in the Mayer v. Bellichick case that involved the New England Patriots-New York Jets game on September 9, 2007. 

Klausner said that all sports fans have tasted both the sweetness of victory and the bitterness of defeat and that some fans are sure to be disappointed after any sporting event. But such disappointment, he said, sometimes results in lawsuits 

He said courts have relied on what has become known as the “license approach” to determine what legal rights or interests are associated with the purchase of a ticket to see a sporting event. 

Citing earlier court decisions related to a Chicago Cubs-Chicago White Sox baseball match, a Formula One race, and the Tyson-Holyfield fight, he said courts recognize that a ticket to see a sporting event gives the purchaser “nothing more than a revocable license” to view whatever transpires at the ticketed event, regardless of prior promises or representations about the performance. 

The judge said the “license approach” does not always apply to bar fan lawsuits against athletes or sports organizations. He said there were cases when athletes and organizations were successfully sued for lying to fans in order to boost ticket sales like that of the Charpentier v. L.A. Rams Football Co., Inc., case wherein L.A. Rams sold season tickets to fans without disclosing the plan to relocate the team to another city.

But in the Pacquiao-Mayweather Boxing Match Pay-Per-View Litigation case, Klausner said the court refuses to disrupt the nature and integrity of competitive sports “by allowing sports fans to sue over the vicissitudes of competitive sports.” 

“Concealing specific weaknesses from an opponent prior to an event is similarly essential to the nature of athletic competition, especially in contact sports such as boxing. athletes will often go into an event with some level of preexisting injury, training deficit, or strategic weakness. Creating a legal cause of action for omissions or misrepresentations that prevent an opponent from exploiting such an injury, deficit, or weakness would seriously impact the nature of athletic competition,” he explained. 

“The omissions made to conceal Pacquiao’s injury relate to Pacquiao’s competitive strategy of hiding specific weaknesses from his opponent. If it is true that Mayweather learned about Pacquiao’s shoulder injury through a mole in Pacquiao’s training camp, Mayweather’s non-disclosure of this fact not only implicates Pacquiao’s competitive strategy, but also Mayweather’s own competitive strategy: to keep his knowledge of Pacquiao’s weakness a secret so as to better exploit this knowledge during the fight,” the judge added.

Fans became disappointed and later filed legal actions against the defendants after hearing Pacquaio, who lost the fight to Mayweather by unanimous decision, telling reporters that he was not in his 100 percent capacity in the fight because he had suffered a shoulder injury during his training.

Pacquaio’s team did not disclose that the boxer had suffered a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder when it signed a Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) pre-fight medical questionnaire a day before the fight. A member of the team divulged the injury to the commission and its medical doctors only 3 hours before the fight in the hope for that Pacquiao would receive an anti-inflammatory cortisone injection. 

NSAC physicians denied Pacquiao’s request for the drug but medically cleared him to fight.

Court records also showed that Mayweather’s camp knew about Pacquiao’s injury before the fight through a “mole” in the latter’s training camp who “knew everything that was going on there.” – Rappler.com