The Chicago Cubs may not have unfurled the ‘W’ flag in federal court, but a federal judge handed Chicago’s National League Ballclub a big win in their long running legal dispute with the owners of rooftops overlooking Wrigley Field.
A federal judge on Sept. 30 dismissed an attempt by the rooftop owners to persuade the court to declare the Chicago Cubs had violated the team’s agreement with the rooftop owners when the franchise erected its new video boards in the Wrigley Field bleachers, obstructing the view of the ballpark from the rooftops and making the rooftops much less economically viable places at which to offer the chance to watch a Cubs game.
The judge also dismissed a defamation claim the rooftop owners had brought against Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who they said had essentially compared them to criminal peeping toms.
Named plaintiffs in the case included Right Field Rooftops LLC, Skybox on Sheffield, Right Field Properties LLC, Lakeview Baseball Club and Rooftop Acquisition LLC.
The rooftop owners were represented in the action by the firm of DiMonte & Lizak, of Park Ridge, and the Law Office of Scott B. Friedman, of Buffalo Grove.
The Cubs and Ricketts were represented by the firm of Kirkland & Ellis, of Chicago.
In her opinion, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall said the rooftop owners had failed to demonstrate they had any legal right to either view Cubs games from the tops of their buildings or offer others the chance to pay them to watch the game.
The Cubs have a right to restrict who views their product, the judge said.
“The Rooftops argue that two possible relevant markets exist: a ‘Live Cubs Game Product’ market and a ‘Live Rooftop Games Product’ market,” the judge wrote. “Neither is a plausible relevant market however because each depends upon the Cubs’ presentation of live professional baseball, and a single brand product like producing live-action Cubs games cannot be a relevant market …
“The product at issue is the Cubs presentation of live baseball games, which is the product of the Cubs alone that thus cannot be monopolized by the Cubs.”
The judge also said she believed the Cubs agreement with the rooftop owners gave the team the legal right to erect the scoreboards.
The Cubs and rooftop owners had differed on how to interpret language within the agreement which exempts “any expansion of Wrigley Field approved by governmental authorities” from being considered a violation of the agreement.
The judge sided with the Cubs, who had argued the construction of the video boards in the right and left field bleachers, which was specifically approved by the city of Chicago, qualified as an “expansion” of the ballpark. Rooftop owners had argued the language applied only to the addition of seating.
And the judge tossed aside the rooftop owners’ assertions Ricketts had defamed them when he purportedly compared the rooftop owners to neighbors peering through a window to watch a television program for which their neighbors paid.
The rooftop owners had argued this statement compared them to criminals.
The judge, however, said the statement was not nearly so nefarious.
“The story can only be interpreted as expressing Ricketts’s own personal frustration at the situation,” the judge said. “Comparing the Rooftops to nosey neighbors viewing his television program is hardly an accusation of criminality. Instead, it is a personal description to personalize how he feels about the Rooftops viewing the Cubs baseball games.”
Kendall dismissed the rooftop owners’ entire lawsuit with prejudice.