A Florida federal district judge tossed out the latest attempt by Aggie football fans to hold onto their seats in the revamped Kyle Field in College Station.
U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas in Fort Lauderdale last month dismissed a class action lawsuit that was moved from Texas to Florida against the 12th Man Foundation, the nonprofit group that is overseeing the “reseating” following a $485 million stadium renovation.
Attorneys representing the seat holders were forced to file the class action petition in Florida after a federal judge in Marshall dismissed the case when it appeared it would not qualify as a class action because less than one-third of the plaintiffs suing a Texas establishment lived outside of Texas.
But on June 23, Dimitrouleas said that the class action petition in Florida also did not meet the criteria to proceed, saying that most of the communications with Barbara Brunner, a Texas A&M alumnus who lives in Fort Lauderdale, were sent to a Texas address. Attorneys for the foundation, in court papers, also indicated that Brunner was the only endowed donor living in Florida.
“The combination of a phone call and e-mails to [Brunner,] who happened to be located in Florida at the time, along with football games that have yet to be scheduled or take place do not amount to a substantial part of the events giving rise to the plaintiff’s claim,” the judge wrote.
Attorneys for the 12th Man Foundation and Brunner did not return phone calls from the Star-Telegram.
In the lawsuits filed in federal and Texas state district court, Aggie fans have accused the foundation of breaching commitments it made as far back as the 1970s in which donors contributing tens of thousands of dollars were given prime tickets at Kyle Field. They also earned coveted parking spaces near the stadium. One of the lawsuits was filed in Tarrant County.
The foundation’s strategy was to “reclaim and resell, at a higher price, the highest value benefits to a ‘new generation’ of Aggie alumni,” their federal lawsuit stated, a violation of not only the law but of the school’s Code of Honor that says an Aggie “does not lie, cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.”
The controversy over the endowments is decades old but ramped up in earnest in 2013 after Texas A&M announced it would give the stadium a facelift, boosting seating capacity to 102,500 and making it the biggest stadium in the Southeastern Conference.
To help pay for the renovations, seat holders are expected to foot over half the bill through seat licenses. That triggered a massive reseating that has loyal fans suing to stay where they are. In a petition filed in the Florida case, attorneys claimed that as of July 2013 the foundation was impacting about 494 endowments, or about 1,760 of the 102,512 seats in the new Kyle Field.
Brunner, who attended Texas A&M in the 1980s and became the first student endowed donor, initially purchased seats on the second deck near the 15 yard line for at least $30,000. But under the new seating plan, she would have had to pay an additional $40,000 over the next 15 years to hold on to the seats, the lawsuit states.
Other fans have been asked to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep their seats.
The foundation has tried to work with those who had contributed to the endowment program. To recognize those seat holders, they got a $2,000 seating allowance starting this year that let them pick a spot in the stadium without owing additional money. But if a fan wanted to sit where more financial support was needed, the $2,000 can be applied to that cost.
The reseating process ran through May.
Mark Riordan, vice president of marketing and communications for the foundation, would not comment on the litigation, but he said the three phases of the reseating process are complete with more than 100,000 seats sold.
Tickets for the remaining seats in the two end zones will go on sale next week,he said.
Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714