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April 28, 1980

MUHAMMAD ALI, Defendant.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLLACK


American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. and ABC Sports, Inc. ("ABC") have brought suit against Muhammad Ali ("Ali") to set aside a labor arbitration Award in favor of Ali and against ABC and Ali has cross-petitioned for confirmation of the Award and entry of judgment thereon in his favor.

 In its complaint framed under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185 (1976) ("LMRA" hereafter) ABC challenges the Award as unsupported by factual evidence; as reached on faulty legal conclusions; and as an Award of unsupported damages under the code governing the relations of the parties.

 A careful review of the record fails to support a cognizable challenge to the Award and ABC's suit must accordingly be dismissed and the Award will be confirmed as supported in fact and law.

 ABC is signatory to a collective bargaining contract with a labor organization, The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists ("AFTRA") in which Ali is a member in good standing. A very broad agreement to arbitrate all disputes with any member of the organization in relation to any matter covered by contract is obligatory on ABC. It is provided therein that the disputants shall be governed by the terms of the so-called AFTRA 1973-1976 National Code of Fair Practice for Network Television Broadcasting (the "AFTRA Code") which sets forth in detail the terms, rates and conditions of employment for those who perform on television. Paragraph 75 of the AFTRA Code provides that "This Code also applies to all . . . commentators or analysts or persons who criticize, review and/or comment on . . . sports;" and "This Code also applies to professional performers appearing as interviewees on entertainment programs. . . ."

 On March 28, 1975 Ali was interviewed on video-tape by ABC as a commentator on an ABC show to be publicly broadcast on the next day. The interview was conducted by Howard Cosell of ABC and related to the Ali-Wepner heavyweight championship fight held on March 24, 1975. Ali received $ 5,000 from ABC for his appearance. The fight had been a controversial one and Ali was critical of the performance of Anthony Perez, as the referee of the event. Perez and Ali had exchanged derogatory remarks after the contest concerning each other's performance and alleged professional lapses of the other and Cosell pursued this subject matter vigorously and provocatively in the taped interview. The tape was broadcast with certain matter deleted therefrom by ABC and the broadcast promptly precipitated a libel action by Perez against ABC in state court. Ten days later Perez commenced a libel action in this Court against Ali focused on the broadcast and demanding huge damages. Ali thereupon asserted a third party complaint against ABC in the federal action, claiming indemnity as well as contribution from ABC. ABC denied liability and cross-claimed against Ali for such damages as it might incur if Perez should be successful against ABC in the state court. The federal suit was tried to a jury which resolved the issues in favor of Ali; this mooted Ali's third party claim against ABC. The ABC third party cross-claim against Ali was dismissed by the Court at the close of the entire case for failure of proof. Perez appealed from the dismissal of his complaint entered on the jury's verdict and that was unanimously affirmed by the Court of Appeals, Second Circuit on April 14, 1977, without opinion.

 Thereafter, Ali claimed he was entitled to reimbursement from ABC of the attorneys' fees, costs and expenses incurred by him in his successful defense of the libel action and he demanded arbitration of this claim with ABC under the AFTRA Code. The standard contract set out in the AFTRA Code provides that the Producer of a program agrees to indemnify the Performer against "any and all claims, damages, liabilities, costs and expenses (including reasonable attorneys' fees)" arising out of "acts done or words spoken by Performer at Producer's request".

 ABC promptly sued to enjoin Ali from proceeding with the demanded arbitration. Briefly, ABC contended that they were neither obligated to arbitrate with Ali on the issue he raised nor was the Ali claim arbitrable because it was allegedly embraced in and disposed of in the Perez litigation between the parties. ABC brought on an application for a preliminary injunction of the arbitration proceedings which was denied, in opinion, and the suit for an injunction was dismissed. American Broadcasting Cos. v. Ali, 434 F. Supp. 1108 (1977), aff'd on the opinion below, 573 F.2d 1287 (2d Cir. 1977). The holding on the dismissal was that all questions sought to be raised by ABC in the lawsuit were arbitrable matters embraced by the very broad arbitration labor agreements involved. Pursuant to the requirements of the arbitration agreement, each party then named an arbitrator and in pursuance of the Voluntary Labor Arbitration Rules then obtaining of the American Arbitration Association, the selectees of the parties named as their unanimous first choice for the third the impartial arbitrator Professor Thomas G. S. Christensen, Professor of Labor Law at New York University Law School who thereafter acted as the Chairman of the panel.

 The arbitration was lengthy and sharply contested. A number of witnesses were examined, documentary evidence was produced and the Ali claim and ABC's defenses thereto were extensively argued and briefed by counsel. In an interim ruling the arbitration panel by a divided vote (ABC's selectee dissenting) found ABC liable to Ali.

 The interim Award recites the following:

Under the provisions of the 1973-1976 Code of Fair Practice for Network Television Broadcasting, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. and ABC Sports, Inc.:
1. is obligated to reimburse Muhammad Ali for legal expenses incurred in defense of the defamation action (and appeal from the verdict therein) filed against him by Anthony Perez, Jr.;
3. . . . jurisdiction is retained by this Board for the purpose of assessing the amount due under paragraph 1, above, with hearing before it for that purpose to be scheduled (absent stipulation of the parties to the contrary) by the American Arbitration Association;

 The parties failed to stipulate on the damages due and the arbitration was reconvened and extensive evidence was taken by the arbitration panel in respect of the legal services involved in the claim and their value. Ultimately an Award was made on January 31, 1980 by the arbitration panel, (ABC's selectee ...

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