New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Civil Rights, James Dolan, Madison Square Garden

 

November 15th, 2022

Dolan’s War Against Lawyers

The deeply unpopular James Dolan.

James Dolan, the CEO of the Knicks, Rangers, Madison Square Garden and other venues, hates lawyers. Or, more particularly, he hates lawyers that have the audacity to sue him or his companies.

So he banned them from his venues. Brought a routine trip and fall case against MSG due to a broken step? Banned. Brought a dram shop case because one of its bars over served a patron? Banned. Here’s a sample of those letters, courtesy of Richard Jaffe:

Had season tickets to the Knicks for almost 50 years? Banned. Wait. What? Almost 50 years of loyalty and you get banned?

Attorney Larry Hutcher had sued Dolan’s business, the Madison Square Garden Entertainment, Corp., representing resellers of tickets. Dolan, it seems, didn’t like it that others may make a buck off the resale of tickets and tried to stop the practice. If there were excess profits floating around, he wanted them.

But he didn’t just ban the lawyer, he also banned all 60 lawyers at his firm, most of whom likely have nothing whatsoever to do with the lawsuit. And they were banned from all venues, regardless of whether it was a sporting event or a concert at the Beacon Theatre or Radio City Music Hall.

What does Radio City have to do with a personal injury case at the Garden? Nothing, except one James Dolan, its infamously hypersensitive owner.

So Hutcher sued MSG over the ban, and gained a partial victory this week. While generally an owner can ban whoever the hell they want from their private property — except based on protected classes such as race, religion, sex, etc. But lawyers are not a protected class.

An additional exception to the common law rule that you stop people you don’t like from coming onto your land, however, is NY Civil Rights Law 40-B. An owner can’t prohibit people coming onto the land for public performances of “legitimate theatres, burlesque theatres, music halls, opera houses, concert halls and circuses.”

(And no, this post isn’t about the concept of what is a “legitimate” theatre, which is obviously a First Amendment issue.)

What was the rationale for stopping lawyers from coming in? And by the rationale, I mean the excuse that they gave, not the real reason. The excuse was that coming into the venue might somehow be deemed discovery “outside proper litigation discovery channels.” Please stop laughing.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Lyle E. Frank handed a partial victory this week to Hutcher. While MSG/Dolan can’t be forced to sell him a ticket, he can still attend if he has one. And this also doesn’t pertain to sporting events, because even though I would call much of that theater, it isn’t in the definition of excluded venues.

And as to the excuse offered by MSG? Justice Frank succinctly wrote:

“[T]here appears to be no rational basis for the policy instituted by the defendants except to dissuade attorneys from bringing suit against them. The concern that the defendants could be prejudiced by allowing attorneys who are representing those who have brought action against the defendant to attend events with thousands of other people is unavailing to this Court.”

So what will happen next? More litigation you can be sure! Because somehow, someway, the Dolan family will likely do whatever it can to keep the resale or gifting of tickets who have had the audacity to sue them, out of their hands.

The decision in Hutcher v. MSG Entertainment is here:

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