Federal judge denies class action in Super Bowl lawsuit

Posted Tuesday, Jul. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A federal judge ruled Tuesday that hundreds of fans’ complaints against the National Football League for seating problems at Super Bowl XLV in Arlington cannot move forward as a class-action lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Barbara M.G. Lynn wrote in her order that ticket holders who did not participate in the NFL’s voluntary settlement for those who were either denied seats, relocated to other seats, delayed entry into the stadium or had obstructed views during the Feb. 6, 2011, game at Cowboys Stadium would need to file their suits individually to determine damages.

Lynn wrote that she found “the burdens and costs associated with proceeding as a class action outweigh potential benefits.”

“The court is skeptical that a classwide approval or disapproval of certain categories of damages would accurately compensate class members for their losses. What makes one person whole may not make others whole,” the order states. “Mini-trials for every class member will still be necessary to determine an individual’s damages.”

Affected Super Bowl XLV ticket holders notified a federal court last year of their plans to proceed with a class-action lawsuit against the NFL after months of mediation attempts failed. The lawsuit says that the NFL breached its contract with ticket holders and that the settlement offers made by the league after the game failed to fully compensate them.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision refusing to certify any class in this case,” the NFL said in a prepared statement Tuesday.

Plaintiffs attorney Michael Avenatti said he would move on with individual breach-of-contract lawsuits.

“We are disappointed with the court’s ruling but look forward to representing hundreds of our clients this year in the trials against the NFL,” Avenatti said, according to The Associated Press. “During those trials, we will prove that the NFL defrauded its fans.”

To expand the stadium’s normal 80,000 seating capacity for Super Bowl XLV, the Cowboys contracted with Seating Solutions to install 13,000 temporary bleacher-style seats. But hours before kickoff, Arlington fire officials and building inspectors declared 1,250 of those temporary seats unsafe because of numerous code violations, including missing handrails and guardrails.

The city had told the Cowboys for weeks that the seat construction contractor was behind schedule and had not provided adequate documentation in areas such as structural engineering. The league, which the Cowboys had notified about the situation days before the game, did not inform ticket holders until they had cleared security and their tickets were scanned at the stadium.

About 3,200 fans were affected. Most were accommodated, but more than 400 didn’t get seats at all.

The NFL has said it satisfied its obligations to the displaced fans by offering them the prices they paid for their tickets plus all documented travel, lodging and meal expenses. About 2,800 people who were delayed getting to their seats or were relocated could receive the face value of their tickets or a ticket to a future Super Bowl. According to Tuesday’s order, most of those affected ticket holders had accepted either offer, leaving between 880 and 1,423 potential class-action lawsuit members.

About 434 people who did not have a seat had more options: $2,400 plus a ticket to the 2012 Super Bowl; a trip to a future Super Bowl with airfare and a four-night hotel stay; a check for $5,000; or a check for more than $5,000 with documented expenses.

All but about 40 of those affected ticket holders have resolved their claims, according to the order.

The suit was also seeking damages for another 4,746 people who claim they were mislead by the league because they were never informed that their seats had obstructed views of the field or the scoreboard over the field. The NFL offered no voluntary reimbursement programs for fans claiming to have experienced obstructed views, according to the order.

This report contains material from The Associated Press and the Star-Telegram archives.

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