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Insurance Law

Suing Bill Belichick For Cheating – Yes, It Has Been Done

Deflate-gate dominated pre-Super Bowl talk. One of the reasons why it received as much attention as it did was because of so-called “Spygate,” an incident in which the Patriots were found to have videotaped New York Jets’ coaches and players, during a September 2007 game, to steal their signals and coaching instructions. So if the Pats were guilty of that, then maybe they deflated some footballs too.

Who knows what the real story is here. That the Patriots won the game, using no-doubt properly inflated footballs, behind a stellar performance by a QB, who supposedly needs help with the pressure in his footballs, takes some air out of the controversy.

As discussed in my earlier above article, the intersection between sports and the law is legion. In particular, a substantial amount of litigation surrounds the National Football League, its players and fans. So it comes as no surprise that Spygate led to litigation.

In Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223 (3d Cir 2010), [enhanced version available to subscribers], the Third Circuit held that a Jets season ticket holder could not maintain fraud and racketeering claims against the New England Patriots, and head coach Bill Belichick, for the surreptitious videotaping of the Jets coaches and players. The Spygate opinion is long. But, in general, the court held that the season ticket holder held no legally cognizable right, interest, or injury. “At best, he possessed nothing more than a contractual right to a seat from which to watch an NFL game between the Jets and the Patriots, and this right was clearly honored.”

The court’s conclusion is worth reading: “[T]his Court will affirm the dismissal of Mayer’s amended complaint. Again, it bears repeating that our reasoning here is limited to the unusual and even unique circumstances presented by this appeal. We do not condone the conduct on the part of the Patriots and the team’s head coach, and we likewise refrain from assessing whether the NFL’s sanctions (and its alleged destruction of the videotapes themselves) were otherwise appropriate. We further recognize that professional football, like other professional sports, is a multi-billion dollar business. In turn, ticket-holders and other fans may have legitimate issues with the manner in which they are treated. See, e.g., Charpentier, 75 Cal.App.4th at 314, 89 Cal.Rptr.2d 115, [enhanced version available to subscribers], (‘It is common knowledge that professional sports franchisees have a sordid history of arrogant disdain for the consumers of the product.’ (footnote omitted)). Significantly, our ruling also does not leave Mayer and other ticket-holders without any recourse. Instead, fans could speak out against the Patriots, their coach, and the NFL itself. In fact, they could even go so far as to refuse to purchase tickets or NFL-related merchandise. See, e.g., Bowers, 489 F.3d at 321, [enhanced version available to subscribers], (noting possible effects of bad reputation on future prospects of sport); Seko, 22 F.3d at 774, [enhanced version available to subscribers], (stating that, ‘instead of going to the Cubs game, the fan may head south for Comiskey Park and the White Sox’). However, the one thing they cannot do is bring a legal action in a court of law.” Id. at 237.

The best part of the case is that the plaintiff-season ticket holder, representing himself, then sought review by the United States Supreme Court. Man, now that’s a Jets fan. The nine folks who decide things like, who you can marry, how you can speak and whether the police can rifle through your closet, apparently had more pressing matters. Cert. denied. 131 S. Ct. 1607 (2011), [enhanced version available to subscribers].

Coverage Opinions is a bi-weekly (or more frequently) electronic newsletter reporting or providing commentary on just-issued decisions from courts nationally addressing insurance coverage disputes. Coverage Opinions focuses on decisions that concern numerous issues under commercial general liability and professional liability insurance policies. For more information visit

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of his firm or its clients. The information contained herein shall not be considered legal advice. You are advised to consult with an attorney concerning how any of the issues addressed herein may apply to your own situation. Coverage Opinions is gluten free but may contain peanut products.

    Randy Maniloff is Counsel at White and Williams, LLP in Philadelphia. He previously served as a firm Partner for seven years and transitioned to a Counsel position to pursue certain writing projects including Coverage Opinions . Nonetheless he still maintains a full-time practice at the firm. Randy concentrates his practice in the representation of insurers in coverage disputes over primary and excess obligations under a host of policies, including commercial general liability and various professional liability policies, such as public official’s, law enforcement, educator’s, media, computer technology, architects and engineers, lawyers, real estate agents, community associations, environmental contractors, Indian tribes and several others. Randy has significant experience in coverage for environmental damage and toxic torts, liquor liability and construction defect, including additional insured and contractual indemnity issues. Randy is co-author of “General Liability Insurance Coverage - Key Issues In Every State” (Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2012). For the past twelve years Randy has published a year-end article that addresses the ten most significant insurance coverage decisions of the year completed.

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