Sports Law Blog
All things legal relating
to the sports world...
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Clemens v. McNamee: Your Civil Procedure Exam

Apparently, the new goal of sports figures is to educate the public about civil procedure (not a bad thing, actually). First came the lawsuit between West Virginia University and Rich Rodriguez, its former football coach, which taught us about removal and the difference between a citizen of a state and an arm of the state for purposes of diversity jurisdiction and now is going to demonstrate just what the discovery process looks like. (WVU Law's Sports and Entertainment Law Society and Professor Beth Thornburg (SMU, visiting at West Virginia) both are doing a great job watching and reporting on the procedural details).

Now comes the defamation lawsuit that Roger Clemens filed against Brian McNamee, his former trainer, over McNamee's statements to law enforcement and the Mitchell Commission that Clemens used performance-enhancing drugs. Clemens filed the lawsuit in January in state court in Houston; McNamee removed to federal court (on diversity--this was an obvious move). Yesterday, McNamee brought Rule 12(b) alive for civ pro students and sports fans alike. Get ready for your final exam, featuring a motion to dismiss for:

1) Lack of Personal Jurisdiction: McNamee argues that his allegedly defamatory statements were made in New York (where he met with Mitchell Commission investigators) about actions that Clemens took in Toronto and New York. McNamee went to Texas several times to train Clemens (about 2-3 times per year since the late 1990s) but none of those trips had anything to do with his injecting Clemens or with his statements. Clemens suffered harm in Texas, where he lives, but McNamee did nothing to direct his statements to Texas, and 5th Circuit precedent holds that the situs of harm alone is not enough. More interestingly, Clemens' complaint argues that McNamee is subject to general jurisdiction based on 2-3 annual trips to Texas.

2) Improper Venue: Under ยง 1391, a diversity case can be brought in a federal district in which a defendant resides or in a district where a substantial part of the events and omissions giving rise to the claim occurred. McNamee resides in New York, which also is where the events and omissions (his statements and the subject of those statements) occurred. It is not clear any of the key events occurred in Texas.

3) Failure to State a Claim: McNamee argues that Clemens' complaint is factually insufficient, by failing to allege with specific detail the defamatory statements--when the statements where made, when, to whom--and cites, of course, Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, the current focus of much academic obsession. There also is citation to prior case law that required higher pleading for defamation claims, such claims being "disfavored."
McNamee also argues for dismissal of Clemens' claim for a declaratory judgment that Clemens did not defame McNamee, arguing that case law generally prohibits a potential tortfeasor from seeking a declaration of non-liability, since doing so would allow a potential defendant always to trump the potential plaintiff's choice of forum. This likely is a first step towards McNamee bringing a defamation counterclaim (which likely would be compulsory) if he is unsuccessful in getting Clemens' complaint dismissed.

Notably missing is a motion to transfer venue from Texas to New York--that even if Texas is appropriate, the case can more easily and more appropriately be litigated in New York. This probably is because it is tough to get a case transferred out of the plaintiff's home forum (Clemens lives in Texas). But I am surprised McNamee's attorneys did not spot that issue and at least try to bring that motion.


Wow, nice post. I am currently taking Civ Pro, and you just wrapped up everything we have discussed in the past few weeks in a very interesting way. Why can't we learn Civ Pro solely through sports litigation? :)

Anonymous Darren -- 3/06/2008 6:04 PM  

At least this year, we could . . .

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 3/06/2008 9:03 PM  

As for the personal jurisdiction argument, isn't it a factor that the alleged defamatory statement was "published" in Texas? It seems that in today's media age that there is a potential for a defamed person to pick the most favorable jurisdiction based on the fact that the statement was "published" virtually everywhere. It seems that McNamee is trying to limit the statement to the place where it was made, even though he had to be substantially certain that it would be republished everywhere.

Any thoughts on whether Clemens could simply try to remand the case by declaring that he is not seeking damages in excess of $75,000? Essentially, Clemens has stated that he is attempting to establish his reputation, and, presumably, McNamee is farily judgment proof, so what would be the harm in stating that he is not seeking in excess of 75K and will never accept more than 75K if a judgment was so awarded?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 3/07/2008 8:16 AM  


The defendant must do something deliberate to aim his statements at Texas and to put those statements into Texas. McNamee did not control where the statements in the Mitchell Report ultimately were published. Courts have been reluctant to allow jurisdiction anywhere the statement happens to end up being heard, because that would create, essentially, nationwide jurisdiction in defamation cases.

As for remand: There is no doubt that Clemens' claim is worth more than $ 75,000--he is seeking damage to his reputation (which, as a famous ballplayer, is worth in the millions) and punitive damages. He also has sought a declaratory judgment that HE is not liable to McNamee--and that is worth whatever McNamee's claim is worth, which is more than $75K. The fact that Clemens cannot, in reality, recover that much from McNamee does not affect the jurisdictional analysis.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 3/07/2008 8:47 AM  

Post a Comment