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MLB Weathers Yet Another Antitrust Storm

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 06, 2015 9:57 AM

Major League Baseball has been operating with the benefit of an antitrust exemption for almost a century, a benefit the Ninth Circuit recently declared "one of federal law's most enduring anomalies." Many challengers have come at the king of all protections, and, thus far, all have missed.

The latest attack came from the city of San Jose, California, who claimed the effort of MLB and the team owners to block the Oakland A's from relocating to the South Bay was unlawful under laws designed to prohibit monopolies, collusion, and price fixing. The latest defeat came at the hands of the Supreme Court of the United States, who declined to hear San Jose's appeal.

The Mighty Case...

An A's move to Fremont, San Jose, or somewhere has felt imminent for over a decade. The latest effort morphed into a lawsuit after Major League Baseball and the owners voted to block the move, based on its infringement of the San Francisco Giants' domain. While this was welcome news to A's fans in Oakland, the A's ownership and San Jose were less pleased.

The city sued Major League Baseball in 2013, claiming that teams should be free to move as they see fit and as teams in other league are. (MLB is the only league to have such an antitrust exemption.) San Jose lost in the Ninth Circuit, and appealed to the Supreme Court, setting the stage for what could have been an epic at-bat.

...Has Struck Out.

In the end, however, San Jose's challenge to baseball's unique exemption ended with a whimper. Less than that, actually. Without comment, the justices declined to hear the case, meaning the January Ninth Circuit ruling allowing Major League Baseball to block the move will stay in place.

Also staying in place is baseball's antitrust exemption. In its ruling, the Ninth Circuit said it's up to Congress to decide if baseball will be governed by antitrust laws and declined to give a new answer to "a question that has been firmly settled for decades." Judging from the Supreme Court's (non) response to San Jose's appeal, the question will remain that way for decades more.

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