Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Angels in the Courthouse, Part III.

They didn't sell tickets. They probably could have. From my front row seat, it was quite an engaging display at the Court of Appeal this afternoon as the Angels squared off against the City of Anaheim.

To recap, Anaheim has tried to block the team's name change to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The City lost at the trial court essentially because the judge ruled that the Angels "technically complied” with their lease because Anaheim was "included" in the new name, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The City appealed (or filed a petition for writ of mandate) asking the Fourth District to direct the trial court to change its ruling. In a statistically unusual action, the appellate court accepted the petition and ordered the Angels to show cause why the trial court should not be directed to change its ruling.

Today the Court heard arguments on the writ petition. I won’t rehash the polemics specifically because I think a more insightful approach would be to highlight each of the justice’s questions and comments to perhaps get a view into their thinking (although admittedly such questions or comments may not necessarily indicate how each would rule).

A. Presiding Justice David Sills

Justice Sills asked the City’s attorney about whether there was “irreparable harm” here if the only damages at issue were monetary. (This question goes to one of the elements/factors of an injunction. If money can compensate fully for the wrong, then there is no irreparable harm, and hence, an injunction is unnecessary.)

“What would you have us do?” was Justice Sills’ next query to the City’s attorney. He seemed concerned about whether it was too late to do anything. He returned to this theme with a question to the Angels’ attorney about what was printed on the tickets sent out to season ticket holders. (The response was that the tickets only have “Angels” on them; not Los Angeles.)

Justice Sills later explored whether other alternatives would have been acceptable to the City, such as “Anaheim California Angels” (as opposed to a name that had two distinct geographic areas or cities referenced in the same name).

Justice Sills asked the Angels’ attorney whether he could cite a single example where a professional baseball team had two cities in its name. (The attorney posited, “Minnesota Twins”, contending that those familiar with the Twin Cities would interpret it as such, but Justice Sills noted that Minnesota was a state.)

Directing this query to the Angels’ attorney, Justice Sills asked what the City was bargaining for when it requested the lease require its municipality to be included in the team’s name.

Justice Sills questioned the team's approach making a unilateral change without seeking to bring a “declaratory relief” action in court to ascertain whether the name change would comport with the lease.

Justice Sills repeatedly asked about the status of settlement discussions, and invited the parties to try to work out their differences before a mediator.

B. Justice Richard Aronson

Justice Aronson questioned whether the appellate court could do anything but affirm the trial court if the trial court, as fact finder, simply resolved the “conflicting inferences” of a contract. He returned to this theme later in the oral argument asking whether as a reviewing court they were limited to setting aside only “arbitrary or capricious” trial judge rulings.

Although it wasn’t a substantive question, Justice Aronson expressed his eagerness for the City’s attorney to get to the “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” part of his argument. In other words, even if the actual text may not specifically prohibit: “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” the argument goes that such a change sounds in “bad faith” and would constitute a breach. Justice Aronson used these precise words at least once about the Angels’ proposed name change.

On this topic, Justice Aronson asked the Angels’ counsel what were the reasons the trial court said there would be no probability of success for the City’s argument that the proposed name change violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Justice Aronson asked the City’s attorney whether the City was bargaining for “prominence” and whether it was an express requirement of the lease.

Justice Aronson questioned the team’s attorney whether the City should have been on notice when negotiating the lease that another owner would have the right to include change the name to include another city in the team name.

C. Justice Kathleen O’Leary

Justice O’Leary asked about whether this case was about a name loss only because there was no loss of location, i.e. the Angels still will play in Anaheim.

Picking up on something Justice Sills asked about, she questioned the City’s attorney about whether the name California Angels of Anaheim would be more damaging to the City.

Directing this question to the Angels’ counsel, Justice O’Leary asked whether the City had a right to rely on a reasonable name, even though the lease language was flexible in requiring only that “Anaheim be included therein”.

In one of the lighter exchanges, the attorney for the team referenced the name “Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim”, and Justice O’Leary jumped in, noting that Arrowhead was a water company, not the location. "You got me!", the attorney conceded.

No ruling was announced and no indication given when it might materialize. After about 1.5 hours of argument, the matter was ordered under submission.