Sports Law

Former MLB Agent Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Application Of MLBPA Statute Of Limitations Rule

It is somewhat rare for the general public to get an inside look at the disputes that take place within the confines of professional sports players’ unions. The disputes are arbitrated and intended to stay private; however, sometimes there is nothing that the players’ associations can do to keep those arbitration matters behind closed doors. That is always true when an arbitrator’s opinion is challenged by way of the filing of a petition to vacate the award in a court of law.

One of the more recent examples of the above comes by way of a filing in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Sacramento Division. On June 18, California Sports Management, Inc. and Gregory Maroni filed a petition to vacate arbitration award against Neftali Feliz Antonio.

On March 12, an arbitration award was entered in favor of Neftali Feliz Antonio in the amount of $468,333.33. In the petition to vacate, California Sports Management, Inc. and Gregory Maroni (the Petitioners) argue that the arbitrator’s award should be vacated because it “completely disregarded the untimely filing, inexplicably determined Petitioners suffered no harm as a result of Respondent’s untimeliness, and effectively ignored the provisions of the contract entered into between the Petitioners and Respondent.”

The petition to vacate highlights a March 2017 Settlement and Release Agreement that was entered into by the parties. It specified that Maroni was required to pay Neftali Feliz Antonio an amount of $1 million, broken down into numerous installments. The final two installments, totaling $300,000, were never made. Maroni admits his failure to make the required payments under the agreement, but alleges that Neftali Feliz Antonio waited nearly ten months to file a grievance for non-payment and thus should have lost in his efforts to recover the monies due upon default.

Maroni’s main contention is that the MLBPA Regulations Governing Player Agents requires that all grievances must be filed and served with the MLBPA within 180 days from the later of the date of the occurrence or the date on which the facts giving rise to the grievance became known.

This alleged violation of the statute of limitations was argued by Maroni in the underlying arbitration proceeding, but the arbitrator found that, even if the grievance was untimely filed, Neftali Feliz Antonio should still recover on principles of equitable tolling. The arbitrator also included prejudgment interest as a form of relief.

The petition to vacate asks the court to vacate the arbitration award based on the theory that the arbitrator exceeded his powers and that the award was completely irrational or exhibited a manifest disregard of the law.

Maroni, who names himself as Chief Executive officer of California Sports Management, Inc., is no longer licensed as a Player Agent with the MLB Players Association and discontinued his representation of Neftali Feliz Antonio many years ago. That likely contributed to the filing of the petition to vacate, as Maroni probably believes he has nothing to fear by way of the MLBPA taking punitive action against him for his public filing.

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.