Dec
17

Athletes Premier International, Inc. v. Hendricks Sports Management

If you are not aware that Aroldis Chapman, the high profile pitching prospect who recently defected from Cuba had switched from Athletes Premier International to the Hendricks Brothers, read this story before going forward.

As is the norm with most news stories these days, this one started with a few tweets.  They were courtesy of ESPN Senior Writer, Jorge Arangure, and sent at roughly 4 p.m. EST on Tuesday.

API,Chapman’s previous firm,will soon send out a release announcing a lawsuit they filed today in Massachusetts against Hendricks Brothers

Lawsuit alleges Hendricks tortiously interfered with API’s representation of Chapman

Five hours later, Jimmy Golen of the Associated Press had enough information to run a full story.

The lawsuit accuses Hendricks of tortious interference and unjust enrichment, claiming that Athletes Premier “invested substantial time and hundreds of thousands of dollars” on Chapman’s behalf to help him defect, establish residency in Andorra and begin negotiating with major league teams.

The suit claims that “Hendricks and its employees made material false and disparaging statements to Chapman concerning Athletes Premier and Mejia as well as provided improper enticements to Chapman in order to cause Chapman to terminate his contract with Athletes Premier and sign a contract with Hendricks.”

The AP article also included a quote from Michael McCann, a future panelist at the 2010 UF Sports Law Symposium.

“Generally speaking, players can change agents at their discretion. There is certainly evidence of agents poaching clients (in cases) that don’t result in litigation. Maybe it’s unethical; maybe it’s wrong; but it happens.”

File this under “Saw this one coming.”  While I have a problem respecting any agency that uses very shady, unethical tactics to recruit players, I must feel some sorrow for Edwin Mejia and Athletes Premier International.  After all, he and his company put their time, money…lives…into Aroldis Chapman, only to be burned before their big payday.

This will be very interesting to watch.  It is rare to find an agency vs. agency matter make it to court.  These problems are usually handled by the players’ associations and little details make it to the public.  If this lawsuit is not settled, it has the potential to add solid new precedent for sports law scholars to peruse.  The complaint, filed by Athletes Premier International, inc. in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is embedded below.  API has retained the law firm of Greenberg Traurig as its attorneys for this case.

  • Francis

    This case is interesting. Tortuous interference will be difficult to prove. I mean what lawyer or agent for that matter, has not lost a client to a rival firm? It happens all the time. For that matter who in this business whether it be law or being a sports agent has not gained a client from a competitor. What is important to remember is that clients themselves are free to decide who will represent them and for how long. I agree with Darren’s sentiment that it is shameful that the previous agent’s have lost a great quantity of money as a result of Mr.Chapman’s decision. However i remeber what an experienced lawyer told me just as I was starting my own Law office”Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, ESPECIALLY when it comes to clients”.Clients are very fickle in any business, they are not necessarily interested in loyalty. They want who will represent them the most effectively whether it be cost effective or results effective.

    I would be curious to hear others reactions to this article. Once again I must say it is very well written and informative.

    Merry X-Mas everyone.

  • anon

    The response to this lawsuit on the law and sports blogs has been interesting. Just because agent-switching and client-poaching is common in pro sports doesn’t mean it’s ever been right — or legal.

    It seems like Edwin Mejia was in over his head in representing Aroldis Chapman, so this particular case might be tough for Mejia to win, but the general idea seems legally sound. It’s not like Chapman fired Mejia for an agent with a long track record with Cuban or international players. Rodney Fernandez, Chapman’s new agent with the Hendricks brothers, has negotiated exactly the same number of MLB contracts as Mejia — zero. The idea that Chapman, on his own, decided to fire one neophyte agent in favor of another neophyte agent seems like a stretch.

  • Francis

    HI Anon,

    I wasn’t implying that it was legal or right. I was merely pointing to the commonality of the practice. What is important to note also, is the question of free will. The client is allowed to change representation when he sees fit. Now, whether someone nudged him in that direction may be hard to prove. That being said It would be nice to see his previous agents be reimbursed for their expenses and perhaps also receiving a fee for all the work they did prior to the switch.

  • http://sportsagentblog.com Darren Heitner

    I’ll be enhancing this post a bit for an article in Holt Hackney’s Sports Litigation Report, which should be published in the beginning of January.

  • Francis

    Great news Mr.Heitner.

    Please let me know when and how I can read the expanded article (I believe you have my e-mail).

  • anon

    Francis — I hope you (and everyone else here) had a Merry Christmas.

    I wasn’t replying directly to you above. It was more of a general comment based on your comment as well as about 20 others I’ve read around the ‘net.

    The idea of “free will” vis-a-vis agency agreements is another matter that’s accepted as a given but hardly is settled law. People are bound by agency, referral, representation, residual, etc., contracts all the time. They might be free to change representation and pay a *second* fee (or a third, fourth, etc.), but rarely does “free will” allow people to invalidate an otherwise binding agreement. This is a legal anomaly that seems unique to pro sports in the U.S., and it might not be “legal” at all.

    Again, this doesn’t seem like the perfect test case, as Mejia made some missteps and also failed to get a contract done for Chapman after almost 5 months of representation. But in the right circumstances, this sort of case seems appropriate and quite legally sound.

    As an aside, I’m surprised Mejia didn’t also sue Chapman, unless the option of suing Chapman is being held in reserve in case the tortious interference and other claims fail. I suppose, until Chapman signs an MLB contract, suing Chapman might be pointless, as he’s likely penniless except for whatever money he gets from his agents and couldn’t repay Mejia right now even if he wanted to do so.

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