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Dang v. San Francisco Forty Niners, Ltd.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

August 29, 2014

PATRICK DANG, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
SAN FRANCISCO FORTY NINERS, LTD., et al., Defendants.

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS [Re: Docket No. 51]

EDWARD J. DAVILA, District Judge.

Plaintiff Patrick Dang ("Plaintiff"), an individual, has brought this putative class action against the National Football League ("NFL"), its member clubs, National Football League Properties, Inc. ("NFLP"), and Reebok International, Ltd. ("Reebok")-collectively "Defendants." Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have engaged in anticompetitive behavior and entered into agreements in violation of state and federal antitrust laws. The allegedly unlawful conduct relates to agreements about the licensing of NFL's and NFL teams' intellectual property for use in apparel for consumer retail.

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings. The Court heard oral argument on August 8, 2014. For the reasons explained below, Defendants' Motion is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

The allegations contained in this section are taken largely from the Complaint, which was filed by Plaintiff on October 24, 2012. See Compl., Docket Item No. 1.

Defendant NFL is an unincorporated association founded in 1963 comprising, through their respective owners, the various football teams in the NFL. Id . ¶ 37. Defendant NFLP is a corporation established by the NFL and NFL teams for the purpose of licensing the trademarks, logos, and other branding of NFL teams and the NFL. Id . ¶ 36. Defendant Reebok is a corporation that markets sports apparel. Id . ¶ 38.

Plaintiff bases his suit on an agreement that took place in December 2000. During that time, the individual NFL teams, the NFL, and the NFLP jointly agreed to grant Reebok an exclusive license to manufacture NFL-branded apparel. Id . ¶ 63. The agreement, Plaintiff argues, marked a shift in the NFL's licensing landscape. Id . Before December 2000, he argues, NFL-related licensees had to compete against one another in order to obtain an NFLP license for the NFL or a particular NFL team. Id . ¶ 59. He also contends that the individual NFL teams competed against each other for the licensing of their own intellectual property. Id . ¶¶ 63-64. This arena of competition among both the individual NFL teams and the prospective licensees, Plaintiff argues, "ensured that the market for such apparel was subject to free market forces that served to provide the ultimate consumer of such apparel with superior product selection and competitive prices." Id . ¶ 62.

Plaintiff alleges that in November 2011, he purchased an item of apparel bearing an NFL team's logo and other intellectual property from a sports merchandise retailer. Id . ¶¶ 5, 76. Plaintiff asserts that he was an "indirect purchaser" of this apparel product bearing the NFL team's intellectual property. Id . He argues that due to the allegedly anticompetitive and unlawful agreement among the Defendants, he paid an "anticompetitive overcharge for his purchase." Id . ¶ 5.

Plaintiff's Complaint brings forth four causes of action. Count I alleges that the December 2000 agreement is a horizontal agreement in restraint of trade that violates California's Cartwright Act, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 16720 et seq. Count II alleges that the agreement also constitutes a vertical agreement in restraint of trade unlawful under the Cartwright Act. Count III alleges that Defendants' conduct is unfair and unlawful in violation of California's Unfair Competition Law ("UCL"), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et seq. These three Counts are brought on behalf of a class of California indirect purchasers of apparel products branded with NFL team intellectual property. Count IV alleges a violation of the federal Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq. This Count is brought on behalf of a nationwide class of indirect purchasers and seeks injunctive relief pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 26.

The Court previously denied Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. See Docket Item No. 38. On March 7, 2014, Defendants moved for leave to file the instant Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings, which the Court granted. The instant Motion was filed on March 19, 2014.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to move for judgment on the pleadings "[a]fter the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial." Judgment on the pleadings is proper when "there is no issue of material fact in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Chavez v. United States , 683 F.3d 1102, 1108 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Fleming v. Pickard , 581 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009)). The standard for a Rule 12(c) motion is essentially the same as that for a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Chavez , 683 F.3d at 1108. Thus, a court must presume all facts alleged in the complaint as true, and determine whether the complaint shows plausible entitlement to a legal remedy. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007) (discussing the standard for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)). A court need not accept the truth of any legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted) (discussing the standard for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6)).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants' Motion addresses the narrow issue of whether Plaintiff's Cartwright Act claims (Counts I and II of the Complaint) are barred by the California Supreme Court's ruling in Partee v. San Diego Chargers Football Co. that "the Cartwright Act is not applicable to the interstate activities of professional football." 34 Cal.3d 378 , 380 (1983). Defendants also seek ...


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