Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently said that Rams owner Stan Kroenke doesn’t “back away” from his obligations. On a related subject, Kroenke reportedly has threatened to back away from his obligations.
According to Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal, Kroenke has threatened to cut his own deal with the St. Louis plaintiffs who are suing the NFL, forcing the rest of the league to face the music in January, when the lawsuit arising from the relocation of the Rams goes to trial. Per the report, Kroenke will do it unless the league promises to spread the final settlement or judgment.
The report comes in advance of a mediation session set for Tuesday, November 23. And it definitely complicates the process. The mediator, who normally would be trying to broker a deal between the plaintiffs and the defendants with no authority to make any actual decisions or ruling, will now have to get the defendants on the same page, too.
Kroenke is saying, essentially, that he reserves the right to cut his own deal with the St. Louis plaintiffs, and then to force the rest of the league to stand trial without him. It arguably makes little sense from the perspective of the plaintiffs. Although a payment from Kroenke could serve as a useful bird in the hand, the settlement would impact the dynamics of the remaining case. The league would aggressively argue, for example, that the St. Louis plaintiffs have gotten their justice from the man who moved the team. While other owners allegedly lied, cheated, and/or stole to facilitate the move, a settlement by the owner of the team that moved out of St. Louis goes a long way toward creating the impression that the case is, or should be, over.
Also, Kroenke can’t simply avoid his potential indemnity obligation to his partners by settling the case as to his team. Although the language of the indemnity agreement leaves much to be desired, the fight doesn’t evaporate if Kroenke settles. Thus, he could still end up responsible for the full settlement or judgment.
It’s now clear, however, that Kroenke is ready to fight his business partners. For example, the email from Kroenke’s representatives to the NFL reportedly argues that indemnification is not available for intentional torts and punitive damages. This suggests that Kroenke plans to sue over the indemnity provision, circumventing language that places the Commissioner in charge of determining the costs to be paid by Kroenke. Likewise, the argument seems more than a little confusing in this context; if Kroenke committed fraud along with other owners, how can Kroenke then say he’s not responsible for the full costs arising from the fraudulent activities?
Kroenke presumably will make every argument that he can. Although he moved the team and benefited from it, the other owners benefited, too. And if they didn’t want him to move to L.A., they shouldn’t have selected his team to make the move — especially if the internal rules suggested that the Rams should have remained in St. Louis.