The opinion of the court was delivered by: COOPER
This is an action brought by plaintiff Curtis C. Flood, a major league professional baseball player, to enjoin
the defendants - several major league baseball clubs, the American and National Leagues of Professional Baseball Clubs, the Commissioner of Baseball, and certain named individuals - from enforcing organized baseball's reserve system against him.
Plaintiff now moves for a preliminary injunction enjoining during the pendency of this action each baseball club defendant from refusing to offer employment to him as a baseball player, pursuant to an arrangement among the clubs which constitutes the reserve system, and each individual defendant from taking any action in furtherance of such arrangement.
The application now before us presents a pure question of law. Accordingly, our duty prohibits either the exercise of unrestricted discretionary power or an expression of personal preference. Regardless of our determination of the present application, the merits of the suit itself have yet to be resolved at a full trial.
In October, 1969 the contracts of plaintiff and several other ballplayers for the St. Louis National Baseball Club were assigned to the Philadelphia National League Club in exchange for the contracts of certain players for the Philadelphia Club. Plaintiff objects to this "trade" and refuses to join the Philadelphia Club, claiming as unlawful the reserve system.
Essentially plaintiff's attack is directed against the reserve system which has been in effect for nearly one hundred years and which he charges is unlawful in a number of respects under four separate causes of action. Each seeks a declaration of the illegality of this reserve system and an injunction restraining its operation as to him. First is a federal claim that this constitutes an unreasonable restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1 and 2. His second and third are state law claims for violations of the antitrust laws and common law respectively where jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship. His fourth cause of action alleges that this system subjects him to a condition of involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment and certain federal civil rights and labor statutes, 18 U.S.C. § 1581, 42 U.S.C. § 1994, and 29 U.S.C. §§ 102 and 103.
The reserve system (also known as the "reserve clause") is the heart of plaintiff's complaint. No player seeking to play baseball professionally in this country can avoid its strictures since it applies to all clubs in both the major and minor leagues and thus all of organized baseball. The effect of this system is to restrict a player throughout his baseball life to negotiate with only one club at any one time; that club being either the one with which he begins his career or the club to which his contract is assigned.
In general, the reserve system operates by the enforcement of the following baseball rules and contract terms. Rule 3 of the Major League Rules and Professional Baseball Rules
agreed to by all professional baseball clubs requires that each club contract with its players only pursuant to the Uniform Players Contract and specifically that "no club shall make a contract . . . containing a non-reserve clause." The Uniform Player's Contract provides in part that if in the year of expiration of the contract a player and a club do not reach agreement on a new contract by a certain date, the club may unilaterally renew the existing contract subject to certain salary controls. Such renewal contract would itself contain this renewal clause. The club with which a ballplayer initially signs thus has a right to his services for as long as it wishes to renew his contract, subject only to his right to retire from baseball.
Another section of this same Uniform Contract provides that a player's contract may be assigned, without his approval, to any other major league club in accordance with the baseball rules.
To insure respect for these contract rights once obtained by a club, Rule 4-A of the Major League and Professional Baseball Rules provides that each club may place its players on a reserve list, including any of its players who voluntarily retire or who fail to report to or contract with the club, "and thereafter no player on any list shall be eligible to play for or negotiate with any other club until his contract has been assigned or he has been released."
Additionally, Rule 3(g) of the Major League and Professional Baseball Rules binding on all clubs prohibits any "tampering" with the players for any club by any other club.
Baseball has been the national pastime for over one hundred years and enjoys a unique place in our American heritage. Major league professional baseball is avidly followed by millions of fans, looked upon with fervor and pride and provides a special source of inspiration and competitive team spirit especially for the young.
Baseball's status in the life of the nation is so pervasive that it would not strain credulity to say the Court can take judicial notice that baseball is everybody's business. To put it mildly and with restraint, it would be unfortunate indeed if a fine sport and profession, which brings surcease from daily travail and an escape from the ordinary to most inhabitants of this land, were to suffer in the least because of undue concentration by any one or any group on commercial and profit considerations. The game is on higher ground; it behooves everyone to keep it there.
From what the papers before us reflect, we are certain that plaintiff and defendants each believe they have the best interests of the game at heart. In general, defendants contend that the reserve system is essential to prevent a relapse into the instability of those early years of professional baseball when players were free to change teams. Plaintiff, and apparently the Major League Baseball Players Association too, concede the need for some form of reserve on players, but argue that these objectives can be met by a less restrictive system.
The grip may well be far too tight and it may be best to loosen the bonds without permitting the slightest sag to the body of the game. However, courts do not sit as arbitrators. We have no power to devise and enforce alternatives to the present reserve system that may accommodate the interests of both parties.
The sole question before us is whether plaintiff has made the necessary showing to entitle him to a preliminary injunction restraining the operation of the reserve system and making plaintiff a free agent pending a final resolution upon a trial of the substantial issues of fact and law presented by this lawsuit. Under recognized principles, applicable to motions for preliminary injunctive relief, the Court is constrained to deny the motion. This however is the first inning. We are simply deciding that at this initial stage of the lawsuit, plaintiff is not entitled to the substance of the ultimate relief he seeks.
Standard for Issuance of a Preliminary Injunction
The general purpose of a preliminary injunction is to maintain and preserve the status quo until the case can be ultimately resolved on the merits.
It is an extraordinary remedy, to be issued only reluctantly and where the right to the relief is clear.
"A clear showing of probable success and possible irreparable injury" is necessary.
Where there is a "lack of adequate showing of irreparable damage" the party seeking a preliminary injunction must convince the court with reasonable certainty that it will ultimately succeed.
However, where the "balance of hardships tips decidedly toward the party requesting the temporary relief," the burden of showing probable success lessens to a requirement that he raise "questions going to the merits so serious, substantial and difficult as to make them a fair ground for litigation and thus for more deliberate investigation."
The likelihood of success is "merely one strong factor to be weighed along with the comparative injuries of the parties."
With regard to plaintiff's burden on the balance of hardships, the need to show irreparable injury is especially present where "the effect of a preliminary injunction is prematurely to give the party seeking it a substantial part of the relief sought in the final judgment."
The status quo has been frequently defined as the last uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy.
A preliminary injunction should serve "to keep the parties, while the suit goes on, as far as possible in the respective positions they occupied when the suit began."
The preliminary relief plaintiff seeks is to prohibit defendants from collectively refusing to negotiate with him; in effect, a declaration that he is a "free agent." He has never enjoyed that status in the past and issuance of such a preliminary injunction would grant him the ultimate relief he seeks prior to a determination of the merits and make it difficult to restore the parties to their prior status (plaintiff's contract assigned to Philadelphia) should plaintiff fail to sustain his claims. Moreover, we doubt that the abolition of all restraints imposed by the reserve system (including both the right of a club to retain its players and, as a consequence, the right to trade players) could be limited to plaintiff alone should other similarly situated ballplayers seek a similar injunction.
Enjoining defendants from refusing to negotiate with plaintiff "most assuredly . . . would not be preserving any semblance of the situation as it existed just prior to the commencement of the present litigation."
Relief short of declaring plaintiff a free agent must be considered. Less drastic relief might be to rescind plaintiff's assignment to the Philadelphia Club and prohibit St. Louis from further assigning plaintiff's contract during the pendency of this suit. In his reply to defendant's papers in opposition plaintiff in fact suggests that St. Louis represents the status quo. Rather than wholly suspending the operation of the reserve system its effect would be confined to suspending the operation of the assignment provisions. We believe that such an alternative may offer plaintiff greater hope for success at this preliminary stage.
As we see it, the last actual non-contested status of the parties prior to this dispute saw plaintiff under a contract to the St. Louis Club, but one which was by its terms assignable. The present status of plaintiff's contract assigned to the Philadelphia Club by the St. Louis Club is therefore consistent with the status quo.
Were we to rescind plaintiff's assignment to the Philadelphia Club, restore plaintiff's prior contractual position with the St. Louis Club, and prohibit St. Louis from further assigning plaintiff's contract, we would fundamentally alter the prior status of the parties. The St. Louis Club would only have the option of renewing plaintiff's contract or terminating his employment (which would make plaintiff a free agent). In our view then, interference at this point with the assignability of plaintiff's contract does not preserve the status quo; it accords plaintiff a new status.
Furthermore, we perceive no tenable distinction between plaintiff and any other ballplayer whose contract for the coming season may have been or may yet be assigned to another club and who might desire similar relief.
Granting plaintiff relief pending the outcome of this suit might well effect a moratorium on all trading among baseball clubs. Such potential for disruption of long-standing practices of organized baseball cannot be fairly termed preservation of the status quo.
Preliminary relief to plaintiff would not serve to preserve the status quo. Nevertheless, without regard to preserving the status quo, preliminary relief may be ordered if there is a sufficient showing of potential irreparable harm to the plaintiff.