Sports Law

New York Court Finds It Premature to Rule on Sports Agent Case

A New York state court has denied a defendant law firm’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by one of its attorneys, whose contract was not renewed when he tried and failed to establish a sports agent business on behalf of the defendant law firm.

The court found specifically that while the defendants have established a prima facie case that it effectively served a Notice of Non-Extension of Employment Contract, more evidence must be gathered before it can render judgment at that juncture of the case. “When the evidence lies in equipoise, … it cannot be said that there is a preponderance of evidence on either side,”

Lawrence and Walsh, P.C., of Long Island, N.Y., hired Richard N. Thompson, a former Major League Baseball player in 1997, one year removed from his graduation from Rutgers Law School. Thompson’s one-year contract called for him to be paid $50,000 annually and reimbursed for up to six weeks of travel to spring training and other major league events, where he was to generate clients. Thompson, in exchange, was supposed to bill at least 900 hours on firm-related matters.

After Thompson’s contract was renewed a second year, the firm stepped away from the plate when it came time to renew for a third year. Thompson, however, claimed that he never received notice that he would not be renewed for a third year. He sued the firm in 2006, seeking approximately $600,000 in damages.

The defendants moved to dismiss the claim last spring

During the court’s examination of the arguments, the firm revealed that Thompson, in his first two years at the firm, had not produced “any income for the firm” related to his sports law activities. Thus, on October 1, 1999, firm partner Lawrence S. Lawrence testified that he presented “a Notice on Non-Extension of Employment Agreement was served upon the plaintiff. This notice, written on plain bond paper, and bearing his signature was served upon the plaintiff in the presence of Mr. Kennedy (another partner). According to the witness, it was not prepared on firm letterhead since it was a notice and not a letter. Similarly, did not bear plaintiff’s countersignature, since only notice and not plaintiff’s consent was required.”

Thompson claimed he never saw the document.

“Simply stated,” wrote the court, “the defendants contend this notice was served upon the plaintiff and the plaintiff contends that it was not. The note itself bears only the signature of Lawrence … with no other corroboration offered as to its delivery.”

Thus, the court wrote that it could “not conclude that the defendants have demonstrated a fair preponderance of the credible evidence in support of their contention.”

Thompson v. Lawrence and Walsh, P.C.; Nassau County S.Ct.; 18659/06; 06/03/09

This story was reprinted with permission of Holt Hackney:

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.