The opinion of the court was delivered by: JONES
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
This case revolves around a star hockey player's attempt to sever ties with a Russian hockey team, and the team's attempt to check that move. Pending are two motions. Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction enjoining defendants
from employing the player and otherwise interfering with plaintiffs' contractual and business relationship with him.
The Detroit Vipers ("Vipers") and the International Hockey League ("IHL") cross-move to dismiss or to transfer venue.
For the following reasons, both motions are denied.
Plaintiff Central Sports Army Club is a Russian hockey club owned and managed by plaintiff National Association of Army Sports (collectively, the "CSKA"). (Jlouktov Aff. II P 1). The CSKA is known for developing some of the finest hockey players in the world. (Jlouktov Aff. I P 2.)
Defendant Arena Associates, Inc. ("Arena") is the former name of Palace Sports & Entertainment, Inc. ("Palace Sports"), which is a Michigan corporation with corporate offices in Michigan. (Dudley Aff. P 14.)
The Vipers play their home games in Michigan as a member of defendant International Hockey League ("IHL"). ( See generally Dudley Aff.) The IHL is an American professional hockey league with over 20 teams hailing from various states. (Ufer Aff. I P 6.) The IHL's president, Robert P. Ufer ("Ufer"), does not involve himself in or monitor contract negotiations between its member teams and prospective players. (Ufer Aff. I P 2.)
Defendant Athletes and Artists, Inc. ("A&A") represents several athletes and television sports personalities. (Grossman Aff. P 5.) A&A represented three prominent Russian hockey players in last year's National Hockey League draft. (Id. P 7.) Jay Grossman ("Grossman") is A&A's Executive Vice President. (Id. P 1.)
The hockey player at issue is Russian-born, eighteen year-old Sergei Samsonov ("Samsonov"). Since 1986, Samsonov has played hockey with the CSKA (Berkovich Decl. P 6), developing into a player with the potential to dominate the game at its highest levels (see generally Berkovich Decl. Ex. B).
When he was only fifteen years old, Samsonov signed a contract to play with the CSKA. (Samsonov Aff. P 4). According to Samsonov, he had no choice but to sign if he wanted to continue playing. (Id.) Samsonov's father, Victor Samsonov, neither signed nor approved the contract. (Victor Samsonov Aff. P 4.)
When he was seventeen years old -- on May 21, 1996, near the close of the 1995-1996 hockey season -- Samsonov was asked to sign another contract (the "Player's Contract") relating to his playing hockey during the 1996-97 season in Russia's premier hockey league. (Samsonov Aff. P 5.) Believing he had no other choice, he signed the paper. (Id.) Again, his father did not act as a co-signer. (Victor Samsonov Aff. P 5.) Additionally, Samsonov's father claims that he did not approve of his son signing the Player's Contract. (Id.) However, Sergei Gimayev, a CSKA hockey coach, claims that Victor Samsonov expressly approved of the agreement. (Gimayev Aff. I P 11; Gimayev Aff. II P 2.)
The Player's Contract, which pertains to the hockey season lasting from June 1, 1996 through May 15, 1997, does not appear to be a full contract, but is styled as an "addendum to a contract." (See Berkovich Decl. Ex. C [the "Player's Contract"].) By its terms, it obligates Samsonov to play hockey for the CSKA in the "Russian premier league in the ice hockey Championship of the Russian Federation and the European Hockey League" during the 1996-1997 season. (Id.) Additionally, it requires the CSKA to compensate Samsonov $ 2,000 per month. (Id.) However, the CSKA did not pay Samsonov for each of the months he played under the contract. (See Samsonov Aff. P 9; see also Jlouktov Aff. I P 10.)
After the 1995-96 hockey season drew to a close, Samsonov learned that he would not be playing in Russia's premier hockey league, apparently because of a power struggle between competing CSKA coaches. (Samsonov Aff. PP 5-10; see also Victor Samsonov Aff. PP 5-9.) Failure to play in such a league at that time in his career, Samsonov believed, would have irreparably damaged his development as a player. (Samsonov Aff. P 11.) This belief -- combined with the CSKA's failure to compensate him fully under the Player's Contract -- compelled Samsonov to decide by July 1996 to leave the CSKA. (Id. P 10; see also Victor Samsonov Aff. P 10.)
When he resolved to leave Russia, Samsonov had not decided where he would play hockey during the 1996-1997 season. (Id.) So he could better make this decision, in early July 1996 Samsonov and his father met with Ilya Moliver ("Moliver"), a sports agent with A&A who speaks Russian. (Grossman Aff. P 5.) Samsonov and his father told Moliver that they wished to engage A&A and that they were dissatisfied with their situation with the CSKA. (Moliver Aff. P 4.) At the time, it was Moliver's understanding that Samsonov had signed the document with the CSKA while still seventeen years old, that his father had not signed, and that the document required the CSKA to play Samsonov in a premier league, which they were not doing at the time. (Id. PP 5-6.)
In August 1996, the Detroit Free Press reported that Samsonov had been released from any commitments he might have had to play hockey in Russia. (Dudley Aff. P 6 & Ex. 3.) That same month, Richard C. Dudley ("Dudley"), the general manager of the Vipers, became aware of Samsonov's availability to play in the United States. (Dudley Aff. P 3.) At the time, Dudley understood that no prior contractual obligations prevented Samsonov from contracting with the Vipers. (Id. P 4.) There is no evidence, however, that Dudley contacted the CSKA concerning Samsonov.
On August 22, 1996, Samsonov signed with the Vipers for the 1996-97 season. (Dudley Aff. P 7 & Ex. 1.) The team immediately began relying upon him as their marquee player, advertising him as "The Greatest Russian Ever." (See Dudley Aff. Ex. 4.) Until this time, Ufer, the president of the IHL, had no ...