Victory for Missouri Sports Fans, In Spite of the Wishes of Their Elected Representatives
by Michael Quinn
As the Los Angeles Rams enter the Super Bowl against the New England Patriots this season, many Missourians are feeling pained by the newfound success of their departed team.
Former Senator Claire McCaskill went so far as to suggest that she’d be watching reruns of Bob Ross for three hours rather than witness the erstwhile St. Louis team play under the banner of a different city. Luckily, just as the Rams added insult to injury to Missouri fans, there has been good news for former St. Louis ticketholders. In December, it was announced that the team reached a $24 million class-action settlement to refund thousands of fans who purchased personal seat licenses (PSLs) when the Rams were based in St. Louis. The fans had purchased 30-year PSLs, running through 2024, that gave them the right to buy season tickets to Rams home games, but this was cut short when the team relocated to Los Angeles in 2016. Thanks to three class-action lawsuits, the 46,000 fans with PSLs will now (after court approval) get full refunds for the unused nine years after the team moved after the 2015 season.
This victory for Missouri football fans was the result of tenacious work by class counsel Goldenberg Heller & Antognoli, the Bruning Law Firm, LLC, and the Law Office of Richard S. Cornfeld. Individual fans began bringing lawsuits against the Rams in 2016, but an initial round of mediation in April 2017 failed. It was only after the classes of plaintiffs were certified in March 2018 that the Rams requested the case be put on hold, and negotiations began to make progress. Two further rounds of mediation finally yielded the settlement, with terms that were exactly what the fans sought in their initial case: they will receive refunds of 30% of the PSL value—since nine years remained of the 30-year terms—entitling them to payouts of $75 to $1,350 per claim, depending on their tier of PSL.
As great as this settlement is for Missouri sports fans, if their elected representatives had their way, it never would have happened. Six of Missouri’s eight Congressional Representatives—Republicans Sam Graves, Vicky Hartzler, Bill Long, Blaine Luetkemeyer, Jason Smith, and Ann Wagner—voted for a bill that would have torpedoed the case against the Rams, as well as thousands of other class actions. Despite its misleading name—the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act of 2017—the bill proposed in February 2017 by Representative Bob Goodlatte would “obliterate class actions in America,” as stated in a letter Public Justice signed with dozens of other civil rights, labor, and environmental groups. Among other provisions, the bill would limit class certification to groups where every member “suffered the same type and scope of injury as the named class representative,” and would prohibit attorneys from representing relatives or any client they had previously represented in a class action. Thanks to the support of the six Missouri Representatives, and that of 214 other Republicans, the bill passed the House, only to stall in the Senate.
Requiring every class member to suffer the same “scope” of injury from the same injury is especially nefarious. As our letter states, “Classes inherently include a range of affected individuals, and virtually never does every member of the class suffer the same ‘scope’ of injury from the same wrongdoing. Certainly, many civil rights, discrimination and employment class actions, including cases involving refusals by companies to properly pay workers, would not satisfy these criteria.” It could also conceivably prohibit members with different levels of financial injury from joining together, which would apply to the Rams case. Ticketholders had claims ranging from as low as $75 to as high as $1,350. And if they were prohibited from acting together as a class, there would almost certainly not have been such a large recovery, if there was one at all. A financial injury of $75 is too low to justify brining an individual lawsuit, no matter how egregious the underlying wrongdoing was.
This is the whole point of class actions: to allow many people, some of whom may have had relatively small injuries, to band together to hold wrongdoers accountable. If Goodlatte and the Missouri Representatives had their way, this logic would be turned on its head. As betrayed as Missourians may feel by the departed Rams, it is worth remembering that the people they elected to defend their interests abandoned them in a far more consequential way.