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USA Baseball v. City of New York

August 28, 2007

USA BASEBALL; THE NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL COACHES ASSOCIATION; DR. PETER BERG; JUAN HERNANDEZ; DENNIS CANALE; MEL ZITTER; MICHAEL CRUZ; TITO NAVARRO; JOHN TORRES; EASTON SPORTS, INC.; WILSON SPORTING GOODS CO.; RAWLINGS SPORTING GOODS COMPANY; AND HILLERICH & BRADSBY COMPANY, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

At issue in this case is whether the New York City Council acted constitutionally in limiting the types of bats high school age students use in competitive baseball games, and more particularly by excluding the use of metal bats. In Local Law 20 of 2007 (the "Bat Ordinance"), the New York City Council determined the kinds of bats students of high school age may use in competitive baseball games sponsored by public or private schools in the City. In these contexts, the Bat Ordinance permits the use of only (i) wood bats or (ii) wood laminated or wood composite bats that are approved by Major League Baseball ("MLB"), pursuant to its official rules, for major league or minor league baseball play, provided that no permitted bats can include any metal. See N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 10-165.

The plaintiffs, who include coaches and parents of New York City high school baseballs players, manufacturers of sporting goods, the National High School Baseball Coaches Association, and USA Baseball, an organization devoted to promoting amateur baseball in the United States, bring this action to enjoin the enforcement of the Bat Ordinance. The plaintiffs move simultaneously for summary judgment or, in the alternative, a preliminary injunction to take effect in advance of September 1, 2007, the effective date of the Bat Ordinance. They raise a host of arguments for why the Bat Ordinance should not stand, including that it violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal and state constitutions, that it is beyond the police power of the City, that it is an unconstitutional delegation of lawmaking authority, and that it violates the dormant Commerce Clause. The defendant, the City of New York, has opposed those motions and cross-moved for summary judgment dismissing the Complaint because it claims as a matter of law the plaintiffs cannot succeed on any of their claims. As explained below, the City Council could constitutionally make the legislative choice that promoting the safety of high school age students in competitive baseball games was more important than increasing the performance statistics of those players.

For the reasons stated below, the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is denied and the defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment dismissing the Complaint is granted. The plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction is therefore denied.

I.

A.

The following facts relating to the City Council's decision to enact the Bat Ordinance are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

On September 27, 2002, the New York City Council held a public hearing relating to a bill prohibiting the use of non-wood bats by minors in competitive baseball games. (Decl. of Lauren Popa ¶ 8.) The Youth Services Committee of the City Council held public hearings on a later bill that eventually became the Bat Ordinance on October 23, 2006 and March 12, 2007. (Id. ¶ 10.) On March 12, 2007, the Youth Services Committee voted to recommend the bill to the full Council. (Id.) On March 14, 2007, the full Council adopted the bill by a vote of 40 to 6. (Id. ¶ 11.) On April 4, 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the bill, and on April 18, 2007 the Youth Services Committee held an additional public hearing. (Id.) On April 23, 2007, the full Council overrode the Mayor's veto by a vote of 41 to 4, and it thereby enacted the Bat Ordinance. (Id.)

The Bat Ordinance amended title 10 of the New York City Administrative Code by adding the following section:

§ 10-165 Prohibition of use of non-wood bats.

a. Definitions. When used herein, the following terms shall have the following meanings:

1. "Competitive baseball game" shall mean any organized baseball game at which a certified umpire officiates and which takes place in the city of New York.

2. "High school age children" shall mean persons older than thirteen years of age, but younger than eighteen years of age.

3. "School" shall mean any public or private school which includes any grade nine through twelve and which is located in the city of New York.

4. "Wood bat" shall mean any baseball bat constructed exclusively of wood or any wood laminated or wood composite bat, which is approved by major league baseball, pursuant to such organization's official rules, for major league or minor league baseball play; provided that such term shall not include any bat made in whole or in part of metal, including, but not limited to, aluminum, magnesium, scandium, titanium or any other alloy compound.

b. Only wood bats shall be used in any competitive baseball game in which high school age children are participants and which involves the participation and/or sponsorship of a school.

N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 10-165. The Declaration of legislative findings and intent approved as part of Local Law 20 states: "The Council hereby finds that the use of non-wood bats poses an unacceptable risk of injury to children, particularly those who play competitive high school baseball." (N.Y. City Council Comm. Rep. ("Comm. Rep.") at 16, Ex. 1 to Decl. of Jerald Horowitz.)

MLB only allows bats made from solid wood in its games, but it allows the use of composite bats that it has evaluated and approved as comparable to "one-piece solid northern white ash bats" in the Minor League short-season. (Ex. 21 to Horowitz Decl. at 2.) MLB approves bats that have been scientifically evaluated by the University of Massachusetts Lowell Baseball Research Center. (Id.) The testing protocol includes tests for physical characteristics such as length, weight, barrel diameter, center of gravity, and mass moment of inertia ("MOI"), vibration testing, batted-ball performance testing including a test to determine the "Ball Exit Speed Ratio" ("BESR"), static strength and flexural stiffness testing, and high-speed durability testing. (Id. at 2-4.)

The legislative record of the Bat Ordinance comprises approximately 3,500 pages of testimony, statements, reports, and other documents. (Horowitz Decl. ¶ 2.) At the Youth Services Committee hearings, the Council heard testimony from parents, coaches and players relating to the risks of injuries associated with the use of high-performing non-wood bats. (Popa Decl. ¶ 12.) A mother whose son was killed by a ball struck by a non-wood bat testified that "Brandon didn't have a chance. There was no way he was ever going to react." (Oct. 23, 2006 Comm. Hr'g Tr. 110, Ex. 16 to Horowitz Decl.) A father whose son was seriously injured by a ball struck by a non-wood bat testified that "he was struck by a line drive that I just barely seen the ball make contact with the bat. . . . He had no time to react whatsoever." (Oct. 23, 2006 Comm. Hr'g Tr. 179; see also Popa Decl. ¶ 26.)

At another hearing before the Youth Services Committee, former Mets pitcher John Franco testified that when he now throws at batting practices for some high school teams who use non-wood bats, "while the ball is just getting out of my hand, it's already hitting the net, and I don't even see it coming at me. It's dangerous. It's very, very dangerous. . . . I'm speaking from someone who is standing on the mound for 22 years and I can see the difference." (March 12, 2007 Comm. Hr'g Tr. 6, Ex. 17 to Horowitz Decl.) A coach at a New York City high school testified that he did not perceive a difference in the speed of balls struck by wood and metal bats, but that

[t]he difference is in a wood bat there is a sweet spot that they call, it's a little area that when you hit the ball there, that's the best spot where the ball is going to fly off the bat. . . . With a metal bat, it's not going to go further, but there is more of an area where you can hit it and you can get a base hit. So, in other words, you're making some bad hitters into good hitters, because they have a larger area to hit with, but I do not see any balls flying off the bat any quicker. (Id. at 15-16.)

Currently, until the Bat Ordinance takes effect, high-school sponsored leagues in New York City must use bats that meet standards adopted by the National Federation of High Schools ("NFHS"), which has adopted the same standards used by the National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA"). (Popa Decl. ¶ 13; Def.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 53.) The Youth Services Committee's Report on the Bat Ordinance, dated April 18, 2007 and issued in advance of the vote to override the Mayor's veto, reviewed the NCAA's standards and the decision-making process that led to their adoption. (Comm. Rep. at 3-11.) The Report describes how the NCAA adopted bat performance standards to be effective in 1999 that, among other requirements, imposed a maximum batted-ball exit velocity of 93 miles per hour. (Id. at 3.) The exit velocity limit was based on research suggesting that it takes 0.4 seconds on average for a pitcher to react to a ball hit from home plate to the pitcher's mound, which the NCAA found corresponded to a maximum exit velocity of 93 miles per hour. (Id.) The Report notes that Easton Sports, Inc., a manufacturer of metal bats and a plaintiff in this action, filed a restraint-of-trade lawsuit against the NCAA in 1998, and that in 1999 the NCAA's Executive Committee voted to suspend the proposed regulation of non-wood bats until further testing could be done. (Id. at 4-5.) The NCAA Executive Committee ultimately approved a batted-ball exit velocity limit of 97 miles per hour, among other requirements, which the Report stated "represents an about-face for the NCAA Executive Committee," and the Report notes that Easton Sports dropped its lawsuit.*fn1 (Id. at 5-6.) The current exit speed test used by the NCAA, the BESR test, is the same test employed by MLB. (See Decl. of Dewey Chauvin ¶ 14; Second Chauvin Decl. ¶ 16.) The Committee's Report indicates that the NCAA's current MOI requirement is not comparable to the MOI of wood bats. (Comm. Rep. at 8.)

The legislative record before the City Council also included several studies and reports that explain the differences between wood and non-wood bats and that indicate that non-wood bats that meet the current NCAA and NFHS standards can outperform wood bats. (See Exs. 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 22, 25 to Horowitz Decl.) Several reports refer to a number of ways in which non-wood bats can be engineered to increase their performance, including adjustments to the MOI, the "trampoline" effect, and the "sweet spot." (See, e.g., Exs. 10, 14 to Horowitz Decl.) The record also ...


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