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Blueprint for Relocation Lawsuits: San Diegans followed St. Louis with a Complaint of Their Own

By Ethan Randecker

The NFL has a record of success in lawsuits for teams leaving their beloved cities and fans.[1] That was until St. Louis sued the NFL and the Rams for relocating to Los Angeles resulting in a $790 million settlement.[2] St. Louis’s case may serve as the blueprint to defeating the NFL in relocation disputes or it may be rarity. Following the Rams settlement, the City of Oakland also filed a similar suit against the NFL regarding the Raiders relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas and lost in California state court.[3] However, a new relocation lawsuit was recently filed that hopes to follow St. Louis’s footsteps. Former San Diego city attorneys filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of a local taxpayer against the NFL, its 32 teams, and the City of San Diego for the Chargers move to Los Angeles.[4]

Just like the complaint that led to the $790 million settlement, the recent San Diego complaint and the Oakland complaint asserted that the relocation violated the NFL’s relocation policy by failing to negotiate in good faith, effectively breaching its contractual duties to their respective cities.[5] The complaints also assert unjust enrichment.[6] Unlike the St. Louis complaint, the Oakland complaint did not assert that the defendants made false representations.[7] However, the San Diego plaintiff’s attorneys likely took note of Oakland’s failure and included false representations in its complaint as well.[8] To support its claim, the complaint asserts that Chargers’ officials made statements that the team would attempt to stay in San Diego, while Chargers’ owner Dean Spanos intended for the team to move to L.A. since 2006.[9] Similarly, the St. Louis petition claims that Rams officials stated that they would attempt to stay in St. Louis, but owner Stanley Kroenke intended to move the team to L.A. since at least 2011.[10]

Nonetheless, the outcome will not likely turn on false representations and instead depend on the judge’s interpretation of the relocation policy.[11] The Missouri judge declined to dismiss the St. Louis case and found that the city was a third-party beneficiary of the relocation policy, despite the NFL’s claims that the city was not a party to the relocation policy.[12] The California Superior Court judge in the Oakland case, however, held that the city was not a third-party beneficiary to the relocation policy nor did the relocation policy impose contractual obligations.[13]

If the lawsuit regarding the Chargers move is successful, it could impact future relocations and stadium negotiations across sports. It also would certainly cause teams to second guess abandoning their home cities. Furthermore, it would provide cities leverage in negotiations in the future as teams could not easily leave when their cities when they do not meet the teams’ demands.

What will come of the San Diego case remains to be seen. Ultimately, the NFL will most likely attempt to dismiss the case on the same grounds as the previous cases, that San Diego is not a party to the relocation policy. Should the NFL fail to dismiss the case, it must tackle a few options. It could decide to continue to litigate further, hoping to gain more precedent in its favor following the Oakland case. But if the NFL loses, it would be hard pressed to approve another relocation in the future or face a likely and unfavorable judgement. Alternatively, the NFL could again agree to cough up hundreds of millions in another settlement agreement, kicking the litigation can down the road until the next relocation lawsuit.


[1] Daniel Kaplan, NFL Wins Again in Raiders Relocation Suit. So Why Did St. Louis Go the Other Way?, The Athletic (Dec. 2, 2021), https://theathletic.com/2994805/2021/12/02/nfl-wins-again-in-raiders-relocation-suit-so-why-did-st-louis-go-the-other-way/.

[2] Joe Walsh, NFL, L.A. Rams Will Pay St. Louis $790 Million Over Relocation Lawsuit, Forbes (Nov. 24, 2021, 3:16 PM), https://www.forbes.com/sites/joewalsh/2021/11/24/nfl-la-rams-will-pay-st-louis-790-million-over-relocation-lawsuit/?sh=4fa626227723.

[3] See Kaplan, supra note 1.

[4] Complaint to Recover Taxpayer Funds [CCP § 526a] at 1-2, Henricks v. Nat’l Football League, (No. 37-2022-00002964-CU-BC-CTL) [hereinafter San Diego Complaint]; City News Service, NFL Sued Over Chargers’ Relocation from San Diego, kpbs (Jan. 25, 2022), https://www.kpbs.org/news/local/2022/01/25/nfl-sued-over-chargers-relocation-from-san-diego. Another resident followed with a similar lawsuit as well, asserting many of the same claims. See Jeff Mcdonald, Second Taxpayer Lawsuit Filed Against Chargers, NFL in Wake of Team’s Move to Los Angeles, San Diego Union-Tribune (Mar. 6, 2022), https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/watchdog/story/2022-03-06/second-taxpayer-lawsuit-filed-against-chargers-nfl-in-wake-of-move-to-los-angeles.

[5] See Complaint at 19, St. Louis Reg’l Convention and Sports Complex Auth. v. Nat’l Football League, No. 1722-CC00976, 2017 WL 1423439 (filed April 12, 2017) [hereinafter St. Louis Complaint]; See Complaint at 4, City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders, 2021 Cal. Super. LEXIS 643 (2021) (No. 20STCV20676) [hereinafter Oakland Complaint]. San Diego Complaint, supra note 3, at 4, 28.

[6] St. Louis Complaint, supra note 5, at 19; Oakland Complaint, supra note 5, at 4; San Diego Complaint supra note 3, at 4.

[7] See Oakland Complaint, supra note 5; St. Louis Complaint, supra note 5, at 19.

[8] San Diego Complaint, supra note 3, at 4.

[9] Id. at 31-32.

[10] San Diego Complaint, supra note 3, ¶¶ 74-75.

[11] See Kaplan, supra note 1.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.