When the Baltimore Ravens play the New England Patriots this weekend for the right to go to the Super Bowl, Ravens linebacker Mike McAdoo will be watching from the sideline. The second year pro is on injured reserve and has not played in a single NFL game in his two year career since being signed by the Ravens as a free agent, having taken an unconventional route to the NFL after a truncated collegiate playing career at the University of North Carolina.
Why, you may be asking, am I writing about this on an appellate practice blog? The answer lies in the decision issued today by the Court of Appeals in McAdoo v. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, et al., affirming the dismissal of Mr. McAdoo’s lawsuit against a number of parties, including the University of North Carolina (UNC) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). And as someone who practices in both the fields of appellate law and sports law, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to blog about this case.
McAdoo’s lawsuit arose from original allegations that he accepted improper benefits from a professional sports agent (a $10 cover charge to a night club and an $89 hotel room), which would be a violation of NCAA amateurism rules. When UNC began investigating these allegations, however, they discovered that McAdoo may have received improper academic assistance from a former athletic department tutor, violations of both school policy and NCAA rules. The University immediately declared McAdoo ineligible for football competition while it continued its investigation. Ultimately, the NCAA declared McAdoo permanently ineligible for any further participation in intercollegiate athletics. McAdoo filed suit against the University, its Chancellor, and the NCAA for, inter alia, breach of contract, declaratory judgment, petition for writ of mandamus, and injunctive relief. The crux of Plaintiff’s Complaint is summed up in the Court’s opinion as follows:
Plaintiff believes if he [had] continue[d] to progress and improve as a football player as expected if permitted to play football at UNC in the 2011 season, there [would have been] a significant possibility that [he] would [have been] a prospective draft selection in the 2012 National Football League (“NFL”) Draft, or that [he] would [have been] signed as a free agent to play professional football following the 2011 NCAA season.
The trial court entered an order denying the petition for writ of mandamus and motion for injunctive relief. The trial court then dismissed the remaining claims on Defendants’ motions to dismiss on the grounds that McAdoo’s claims lacked justiciability and that his Complaint did not state a claim upon which relief could be granted.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of McAdoo’s claims on the grounds that he did not raise any justiciable issues and the court was therefore without subject matter jurisdiction.
First, with respect to a claim by McAdoo that UNC and its Chancellor breached a contract with McAdoo as established by his athletics scholarship, the Court held that the Complaint contained no allegation that there was a breach of the contract by UNC or its Chancellor or that McAdoo was in any way injured by a breach. The scholarship agreement provided that UNC would pay McAdoo’s tuition, fees, room, board, and books in exchange for McAdoo’s promise to conduct himself in accordance with UNC, ACC, and NCAA regulations. There was no allegation that UNC ever stripped McAdoo of his athletic scholarship, and thus there was no breach of any contractual obligation by UNC. Furthermore, the Court found that had there been a breach, any injuries or damage allegedly suffered by McAdoo would be “too speculative.” While McAdoo claimed that had he not been prevented from playing college football in 2011, he would have made more money in the NFL than he subsequently obtained after being signed by the Ravens as a free agent, the Court held that such alleged damages were too speculative and hypothetical. McAdoo therefore lacked standing to bring the claims and the claims were therefore non-justiciable.
Second, the Court of Appeals held that the doctrine of mootness further rendered McAdoo’s claims non-justiciable. As McAdoo had become a professional football player with the Ravens, he forfeited any further NCAA eligibility in football. Thus, McAdoo conceded that his claims for injunctive relief to be reinstated to play college football were moot, but contended that his claims for money damages were justiciable. The Court disagreed, noting that McAdoo “has now effectively obtained the relief sought” in the Complaint. The Complaint had sought money damages to compensate McAdoo for alleged prospective injury to his potential earnings as a professional football player. The Court reiterated that any specific level of injury to McAdoo’s earning potential was too “conjectural” and “hypothetical,” and held that because he now plays professional football in the NFL, it is clear that the alleged acts of the Defendants did not prevent McAdoo from pursuing a professional football career. As such, the Court ruled that McAdoo’s claims were moot and non-justiciable.
So for now, it appears that McAdoo’s lawsuit has been sidelined. However, unlike most litigants who have the dismissal of their cases affirmed by the Court of Appeals, McAdoo can at least take some solace in the fact that a basis for the dismissal is that he is a NFL player who gets to root his team on to the Super Bowl this weekend…
Additionally, for criminal practitioners, you may want to check out the Court’s opinions released today in State v. Gardner and State v. Wilson, both of which address the issue of noticing appeals in criminal cases.