Baseball Keeps Antitrust Exemption as High Court Rejects Appeals

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court refused to reconsider rulings that give Major League Baseball a broad exemption from federal antitrust laws, turning away two appeals.

The justices rejected arguments from two major league scouts who claimed the 30 teams were colluding to suppress wages. The court also declined to hear from property owners who say their rights were violated when the Chicago Cubs and owner Tom Ricketts blocked some rooftop views of Wrigley Field.

The dual rebuffs leave intact a line of Supreme Court rulings, dating from 1922 to 1972, that largely insulate the business side of baseball from antitrust lawsuits. Congress overturned the rulings with regard to players and their salaries, but left the exemption in place in other contexts.

Scouts Jordan Wyckoff and Darwin Cox argued that it’s long past time for the court to re-examine those decisions. They contended that major league teams are thwarting competition by agreeing not to hire one another’s scouts.

"In a competitive labor market, each team would compete for scouts and lateral hiring would occur unimpeded, as with employees in any other industry," they argued in their appeal. "Instead, a scout is usually stuck in his job until his team decides to get rid of him."

The Cubs case involved the rooftop businesses that operate across the street from Wrigley Field’s outfield bleachers. The property owners accused the team and Ricketts of trying to take over the rooftop market by buying up businesses and, when that effort failed, expanding the park with bigger bleachers and new scoreboards to block the view from some of the rooftops.

‘Special Status’

"Baseball’s antitrust exemption no longer serves any purpose but to give baseball a special status never intended by Congress and which is ripe for abuse," the rooftop businesses argued in their appeal.

The Cubs have been fighting the rooftop businesses in court for much of the past 15 years.

Lower courts upheld the antitrust exemption in both cases. Major League Baseball urged the Supreme Court not to intervene, saying any changes should be left to Congress.

"This court has consistently held that if the exemption is to be altered or curtailed, only Congress can do so," the league and its clubs argued.

The Cubs said Congress made a decision to keep most of the exemption when it passed a 1998 law to let players file antitrust suits.

"Congress explicitly stated that the act leaves this court’s exemption jurisprudence in place in all respects other than major-league player employment," the Cubs and Ricketts argued.

The cases are Right Field Rooftops v. Chicago Cubs Baseball, 17-1074, and Wyckoff v. Office of Commissioner of Baseball, 17-1079.

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