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M'Baye v. New Jersey Sports Production

February 7, 2007

SOULEYMANE M'BAYE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW JERSEY SPORTS PRODUCTION, INC., D/B/A MAIN EVENTS, AND PATRICK C. ENGLISH, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, D.J.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

Plaintiff Souleymane M'Baye, a professional boxer, brings this action alleging violations of Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c) and (d). Plaintiff also asserts various state claims. Defendants New Jersey Sports Production, Inc. ("Main Events") and Patrick English move separately to dismiss. For the foregoing reasons, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

This case is related to M'Baye v. World Boxing Association, No. 05 Civ. 9581 ("M'Baye I"), and the facts of the two cases overlap substantially. See M'Baye v. World Boxing Association, 429 F. Supp. 2d 660 (S.D.N.Y. 2006).

I. Facts

For purposes of this motion to dismiss, the facts as alleged in the complaint are assumed to be true.

A. The WBA's Relationship With Main Events

Main Events maintains a close working relationship with the World Boxing Association (the "WBA"), one of the four major sanctioning organizations in boxing. (Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 29). At times, the WBA has provided special treatment for Main Events and the boxers it promotes. (Id.).

For example, in February 2000, Lennox Lewis, a Main Events boxer at the time, was the WBA heavyweight champion. (Id. ¶ 30). Pursuant to WBA rules, Lewis was required to defend his title against John Ruiz, the WBA's leading contender. (Id. ¶ 31). Main Events, however, convinced the WBA to allow Lewis to fight Michael Grant, a higher profile opponent, without losing his title. (Id. ¶ 32). The WBA did not sanction the Lewis-Grant fight, but would have allowed it to proceed had Judge Kaplan not issued a ruling requiring Lewis to fight Ruiz -- or vacate his WBA heavyweight title. (Id. ¶ 34). See Lewis v. Don King Productions, Inc., 94 F. Supp. 2d 430, 446 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).

Another instance of favorable treatment involved Fernando Vargas, another Main Events fighter who captured the vacant WBA Super Welterweight title on September 21, 2001. (Id. ¶ 36). Under WBA Rule 5.1.3, Vargas was obligated to defend his title against the WBA's Official Contender within 120 days. (Id.). Vargas, however, was never required to follow this rule because the WBA left the top ranking in the division "VACANT." (Id. ¶ 37). The top ranking was left vacant even though Mamadou Thiam, the WBA's International Super Welterweight Champion at the time, could very well have been ranked the top contender. (Id. ¶ 35). Under WBA Rule 10.3, the Ratings Committee should have taken into consideration the fact that Thiam held a regional title. (Id.). Instead, Thiam was ranked the number 2 contender from October 2001 through July 2002, and did not become the Official Contender until after the WBA sanctioned a high-profile September 2002 fight between Vargas and WBC Champion Oscar De La Hoya. (Id. ¶ 37).

A third example involved Juan Diaz, a Main Events boxer who was ranked number 10 in the Lightweight division by the WBA when Lakva Sim captured the WBA Lightweight title on April 10, 2004. (Id. ¶ 48). Even though Sim was obligated to fight a non-Main Events boxer for his next opponent, the WBA nonetheless sanctioned a bout between Sim and Diaz. (Id.).

B. M'Baye Is Denied A Title Fight

In 2001, Kostya Tszyu was recognized by the WBA as the Super Champion of the Super Lightweight division because he held the WBA, WBC, and IBF title belts for the 140 lbs. division.*fn1 (Id. ¶ 41). As a result of his status as a Super Champion, the WBA sanctioned a bout for its regular championship between Randall Bailey and Diosbelys Hurtado on May 11, 2002. (Id. ¶ 42). Hurtado won the bout, and under WBA Rule 5.1.3, was obligated to fight the Official Contender within 120 days of winning the title. (Id.).

On May 23, 2002, M'Baye paid a sanction fee to the WBA to fight Khalid Rahilou in an elimination bout for the Official Contender position in the WBA Super Lightweight division. (Id. ¶ 43). M'Baye did so in reliance on the WBA's representation that the winner would be the next opponent for the WBA's regular champion. (Id.). Although M'Baye won the fight against Rahilou and was therefore entitled to a bout with Hurtado prior to the end of September 2002, the WBA never directed Hurtado to fight M'Baye. (Id. ¶ 44).

The opportunity to face Hurtado was given, instead, to Vivian Harris -- a fighter promoted by Main Events who was not rated as a top 15 contender by the WBA in either the May or June 2002 rankings. (Id. ¶¶ 44, 47). It was not until July 2002 that Harris suddenly appeared in the WBA's rankings as the 15th rated contender. (Id. ¶ 44). Harris's only activity during this time was a victory over an unranked opponent who had not won his prior fight, and had a journeyman's record of 18-8-2. (Id.). The WBA justified moving Harris to number 15 because of his 21-1 record. (Id. ¶ 45). This appeared to be inconsistent with the WBA's own published ratings criteria, which takes into account four factors: (1) a victory over a rated boxer, (2) winning a regional championship, (3) a request by an affiliated Boxing Commission, or (4) important or powerful reasons for the WBA. (Id. ¶ 45).

Nonetheless, Main Events, through Carl Moretti, arranged with the WBA to secure a ranking for Harris so that Harris would be permitted to fight Hurtado even though M'Baye was the Official Contender. (Id. ¶ 46). In October 2002, Harris defeated Hurtado in an upset victory. (Id. ¶ 47). Because M'Baye remained the Official Contender for Harris's title, Harris was required under the WBA rules to fight M'Baye no later than February 2003, but the WBA allowed Harris to delay fighting plaintiff until July 2003. (Id.). On July 12, 2003, Harris finally fought and defeated M'Baye to retain his title. (Id. ¶ 49).

C. M'Baye Is Denied A Title Fight Again

After losing to Harris, M'Baye dropped in the WBA rankings from number one to number six. (Id. ¶ 51). He regained the number one ranking after winning two other fights. (Id.). On October 21, 2004, M'Baye won an elimination bout against Andreas Kotelnik -- a fight for which plaintiff paid a WBA sanction fee -- and was once again designated the Official Contender in the Super Lightweight division. (Id.). Under the WBA's rules, plaintiff was entitled to fight Harris by no later than July 2005. (Id. ¶ 52). Instead of sanctioning a second bout between Harris and M'Baye, however, the WBA decided to sanction a fight between Harris and Carlos Maussa. (Id. ¶ 58).

Between December 2004 through March 2005, Maussa was unrated by the WBA. (Id. ¶ 57). During this time, Maussa fought only once, and defeated Antonio Espitia, an opponent who had never before engaged in a professional fight. (Id.). Thus, as of March 2005, when the February 2005 rankings were issued, Maussa was ineligible to fight Harris for the WBA championship. (Id.). In April 2005, however, Maussa suddenly appeared in the number 15 position for the WBA's March 2005 rankings. (Id. ¶ 58). The WBA's published explanation for this move in ranking was that Maussa "will fight Vivian Harris on June 25." (Id.). Thus, Maussa was placed in the number 15 position solely because he was scheduled to fight for the championship. (Id.).

By accepting the sanction fee from plaintiff, the WBA effectively represented to plaintiff that it would abide by its rules and regulations, and that plaintiff -- as the Official Contender -- would be given the opportunity to fight Harris by no later than July 2005. (Id. ¶ 59). Plaintiff relied on these representations, and, accordingly, chose to make less money in the short run to preserve his ranking as the Official Contender. (Id.). Contrary to these representations, however, the WBA and Main Events had already agreed that Harris would be able to fight someone other than plaintiff for his next fight. (Id.).

D. M'Baye Is Denied A Title Fight For A Third Time

On June 25, 2005, Maussa defeated Harris. (Id. ¶ 60). Under WBA Rule 5.1.4, Maussa was obligated to fight plaintiff by no later than September 2005. (Id.). Notwithstanding plaintiff's position as the Official Contender, Main Events --Maussa's promoter -- negotiated a fight with Ricky Hatton, an opponent with a higher profile. (Id. ¶ 62). Main Events and Hatton's team were not willing to enter into a contract for the Maussa-Hatton fight unless they had a secret agreement with the WBA to sanction the bout. (Id.).

In August 2005, Main Events and Hatton's team orally agreed that Hatton and Maussa would fight a unification bout in the Fall of 2005. (Id. ¶ 64). Around that time, the WBA secretly agreed that it would sanction the bout regardless of M'Baye's designation as the Official Contender. (Id. ¶ 65).

On September 9, 2005, M'Baye heard the announcement that Hatton would be fighting Maussa. (Id. ¶ 66). M'Baye's promoter wrote to the WBA objecting to the sanctioning of the bout, and demanded that the WBA order Maussa to fight M'Baye. (Id.). The WBA did not respond. (Id.).

From September 9 through September 23, 2005, M'Baye's promoter sent additional letters to the WBA making the same requests and referencing M'Baye's rights under the WBA rules as the Official Contender. (Id. ¶ 67).

On or about September 21, 2005, Carl Moretti of Main Events spoke with a WBA official who informed him that the WBA needed to create a justification for sanctioning the HattonMaussa bout, in light of the objections made by plaintiff's promoters. (Id. ¶ 68).

On September 22, 2005, Moretti sent an email to the WBA requesting a Special Permit under Rule 19. (Id. ¶ 69). The email made it appear as if the WBA had not yet decided whether to sanction the Hatton-Maussa bout. (Id.).

On September 23, 2005, Patrick English, the principal attorney for Main Events, emailed Hatton's team on behalf of Main Events, and informed Hatton's team that they should make an application to the WBA for a Special Permit under Rule 19 so that the Hatton-Maussa bout could go forward. (Id. ¶ 70). That day, Hatton's team, at the request of Main Events, joined in on the application for a Special Permit. (Id. ¶ 71).

Less than 24 hours after the application for a Special Permit, Gilberto Jesus Mendoza of the WBA sent out a vote request to the members of the WBA Championship Committee. (Id. ¶ 72). The request did not inform the Committee that M'Baye had objected to the sanctioning of the bout. (Id.). The Committee voted unanimously by email to grant the Special Permit within a few hours of the request for the vote. (Id. ¶ 73). Although the decision had already been made, the WBA sought to conceal this fact. (Id. ¶ 74).

On September 26, 2005, M'Baye's counsel faxed a letter to the WBA's counsel, confirming a conversation in which the WBA's counsel had informed plaintiff's counsel that the WBA had not yet granted the Special Permit. (Id. ¶ 75). That same day, the WBA secretly sent notification that the Special Permit was granted to Main Events and to Hatton's team, while not revealing the decision publicly or to plaintiff's representatives. (Id. ¶ 76).

From September 26 through October 6, 2005, the WBA continued to conceal the fact that it had approved the HattonMaussa fight. (Id. ¶ 77). On October 6, plaintiff's counsel wrote the WBA's counsel complaining about the WBA's silence. (Id.). On October 7, the WBA's counsel notified plaintiff's counsel that the Special Permit had been granted. (Id. ¶ 78). Counsel for Main Events and the Hatton team were copied on this letter. (Id.).

On November 3, 2005, a hearing for plaintiff's appeal of the WBA's decision to sanction the Hatton-Maussa fight commenced. (Id. ¶ 81). The WBA upheld the issuance of the Special Permit on November 8th. (Id. ¶ 83). It appeared, though, that the decision on the appeal had actually been reached prior to the hearing. (Id. ¶ 84). For example, in an email dated November 7, 2005, Moretti wrote Robert Waterman of the Hatton team that: "I just returned from Korea where I was attending the WBA convention, ensuring in person, that we would have no problem with the WBA sanction, given the relentless pressure that Warren and his attorney placed on them. If it wasn't for the relationship that ...


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