After more than half a year, Justice Marks ruled on Monday that MASN shouldn't be forced to submit to a second arbitration before the RSDC until appeals have been completed. Justice Marks clarified his original decision by stating that his footnote didn’t compel MASN to return to arbitration before the RSDC just because the Nationals changed their lawyers. He further noted that he was unwilling to re-write the parties contract to force its process to move faster than plain language requires.
It’s pretty simple when it comes down to it. As the decision states, it is inefficient for a court to have motions and appeals regarding confirmation and vacature of different arbitration awards, at the same time, all stemming from the same dispute. In this case, there have been multiple motions and therefore Justice Marks decided it was best to ensure simplicity in order to conserve court resources. In addition, this would have the potential of wasting significant amounts of the parties’ time. Depending on the result of the appeal, a decision made in a second arbitration could easily become moot. And it was highly unlikely that a decision tendered in a second arbitration would be put into effect before appeals were heard for both the first and second arbitration.
As stated previously, the impact of this decision is negligible. This merely delays a future RSDC arbitration until after the appellate court rules on each parties appeal. If the appellate court doesn’t rule in MASNs favor, then it seems likely that this case will eventually go back to the RSDC. Likewise, if the appellate court does rule in MASNs favor, then the results of a second arbitration would be meaningless. This was nothing more than a skirmish.
And yet, it does have some interesting implications. The Nationals have claimed that they’ve receiving unreasonably low rights fees for the past three years. They were hoping to compel MASN to go to arbitration in order to rectify the solution. On Monday, they discovered that they wasted half a year on this motion and have nothing to show for it. Even worse for the Nationals, the current five year contract ends after 2016. It doesn’t appear that the sides will come to a decision by 2017 and therefore this dispute could impact the next contract. This was a costly waste of half a year.
Justice Marks noted that neither party has perfected its appeal as of today. Rachel Thorn, an attorney for MASN, noted previously that for the appeal to have been scheduled for the June term, the perfection date was March 21, 2016. MASN didn’t perfect its appeal by that date because the parties were in the midst of mediation and MLB hadn’t responded to Mr. Hall’s February 5, 2016 letter. It seems that she implied that if the Nationals’ didn’t waste everyone’s time by trying to compel MASN to participate in a premature arbitration, then MASN may have perfected its appeal in March and the case could have been heard in June. Instead, MASN needed to use its resources to respond to the Nationals attempt to compel arbitration. If so, it’s questionable whether even a Nationals victory would have sped up the process.
Mrs. Thorn further noted that the next available terms for the appeal to be scheduled are September 2016 and October 2016, which would require perfection by July 11, 2016 and August 8, 2016 respectively. Given that Monday was the 11th, it seems unlikely that the parties will be ready to submit their appeals by that date. It seems that the earliest this case might be heard is in October, but it’s very possible that this case won’t be heard by the appellate court until 2017. Even after the case is heard, it will still take a few months for them to come to a decision.
Furthermore, it isn’t clear what the Nationals were hoping to achieve by bringing this motion. Even if they were successful, it was unlikely that the RSDCs decision would be implemented before MASN had a chance to appeal Justice’ Marks decision about the first arbitration as well as the RSDCs second arbitration. It isn’t time efficient to attempt to compel MASN to return to arbitration if it meant a delay in the appeals’ process.
Also, suppose the Nationals were victorious on Monday. If MASN was successful in the RSDCs second arbitration, then the Nationals would be in the uncomfortable position of needing a victory when appealing the RSDCs first arbitration. If MASN wasn’t successful in a second arbitration, they could use the results of the second arbitration to strengthen their appeal of the Judge’s ruling of the first arbitration. It seems like the Nationals placed MASN in a win-win situation with this motion while placing themselves in a situation where they couldn’t win.
In the meantime, Manfred has continued to make outrageously biased comments in favor of the Nationals. The Commissioner stated that “It is important to bear in mind the fundamentals. The fundamentals are that the Orioles agreed the RSDC would set the rights fees for MASN and the Orioles every five years. The Orioles have engaged in a pattern of conduct designed to avoid that agreement being effectuated.” Manfred has further argued that “We are intent on making sure that the agreement that gets the Nationals a fair market value for their TV rights is enforced, and we’ll do whatever is necessary to get that.” Yet, Manfred refused to acknowledge that the agreement was also vacated due to evident partiality and therefore that the panel was biased towards the Nationals. It is obviously unreasonable to claim that MASN is at fault for fighting against a decision found to be unfairly biased against them. As this case continues to progress, Manfred is further demonstrating his anti-MASN bias and thereby ruining his credibility. The appellate court will have to wonder if the RSDC is independent enough from the Commissioner to make a fair ruling. The longer MASN is able to delay a final decision, the higher the likelihood that Manfred will make a significant error which proves that the RSDC is an unsuitable arbitrator for this dispute.
All in all, the practical implications of this victory are minimal. But the fact that the Nationals just wasted months on this motion and have yet to win a single victory in this entire case is probably a bad sign for them. Why did they decide to waste several months on a motion which had little importance and a minimal chance of success if they want a decision as soon as possible? One has to question whether the disqualification of Proskauer Rose has had significant implications.