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FSU argues a legal battle with the ACC should move forward

Florida State University's James D. Westcott Jr. Memorial Building can be seen in Tallahassee.
Lauren Witte
/
Fresh Take Florida
Florida State University's James D. Westcott Jr. Memorial Building can be seen in Tallahassee.

Florida State University urged an appeals court to reject a request by the Atlantic Coast Conference to at least temporarily put on hold a lawsuit that could lead to the school leaving the conference.

Florida State University late Tuesday urged an appeals court to reject a request by the Atlantic Coast Conference to at least temporarily put on hold a lawsuit that could lead to the school leaving the conference.

FSU attorneys filed a 17-page document at the 1st District Court of Appeal that was the latest move in a tangled legal battle that spans two states and has drawn national attention amid major realignments in college athletics.

The FSU filing stemmed from an attempt by the conference to get a stay of a lawsuit that FSU filed in December in Leon County circuit court. The ACC contends that a lawsuit it filed in North Carolina against the school should have priority — a lawsuit that was filed a day before FSU’s lawsuit was filed in Leon County.

Both lawsuits involve media rights for sports events and financial penalties that FSU would have to pay if it leaves the North Carolina-based conference. FSU essentially contends the conference has shortchanged its members through television contracts.

Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper refused to grant a stay in FSU’s lawsuit and has continued moving forward with the case. That included a decision last week denying the conference’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The ACC on June 5 filed what is known as a petition for writ of certiorari at the 1st District Court of Appeal that argued Cooper erred when he denied the conference’s request to stay the case. The conference followed up June 13 by filing a motion at the appeals court seeking a stay of the case while the petition for writ of certiorari is decided.

FSU’s filing Tuesday night responded to the June 13 motion, but it also reflected the underlying debate about whether the Leon County lawsuit should be put on hold. That debate centers on whether the North Carolina case should be allowed to go forward first — and whether a legal “principle of priority” should apply.

The school’s attorneys argued Tuesday that Cooper correctly ruled the North Carolina case should not have priority. FSU echoed Cooper’s conclusion that the conference’s lawsuit in North Carolina was an “anticipatory” filing to effectively get to court before Florida State did.

FSU’s attorneys wrote that the school’s Board of Trustees, the plaintiff in the Leon County case, “will incur injury if a stay is granted pending this court’s review” of the ACC petition.

“The possibility of conflicting rulings — at least anytime soon — as between the Florida and North Carolina courts is remote and speculative, at best,” Tuesday’s filing said. “ At the same time, the FSU Board (of Trustees) would be stymied in its effort to vindicate its rights in Florida” if a stay is granted.

But in its June 13 motion, ACC attorneys warned of a legal “collision course” if a stay is not issued.

“Failure to stay this action pending certiorari review would subject the ACC to irreparable harm because the trial court (Cooper) and the North Carolina court may continue to reach inconsistent rulings in the parallel proceedings over the same dispute,” the motion said.

The months of legal wrangling have come as FSU is 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. Recent realignments have included major players in college sports, such as Oklahoma, Texas, UCLA and USC, deciding to switch conferences.

FSU contends that it could face “unconscionable” financial penalties if it leaves the ACC. But the conference has defended its handling of media-rights agreements at the crux of the dispute.

A North Carolina judge in April rejected a request by FSU to dismiss the North Carolina case or to stay it. Disagreeing with Cooper’s later conclusion, Louis Bledsoe, chief business court judge in Mecklenburg County, N.C., 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.”

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.