SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court today ordered reduction or elimination of the $34.6-million damage award to the Los Angeles Raiders' for the National Football League's attempt to bar the team's move from Oakland.
By a 2-1 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the damages must be reduced by the amount the NFL might have been able to charge the Raiders for moving into the lucrative Los Angeles market, where the league might have otherwise been able to place an expansion team.
The court did not specify the amount of the reduction, to be determined in U.S. District Court, but said it should be tripled, like the antitrust damages awarded to the Raiders.
So if the amount is at least $11.55 million, the Raiders would lose all of their damages. The court did not appear to provide for payments by the team of any excess amounts.
The court unanimously upheld separate damages of $14.6 million to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the NFL's actions in blocking the Raiders' move between 1980, when the team first tried to move, and 1982, when the move was completed under court order.
Representatives of the Raiders could not be reached immediately for comment. The team has the option of appealing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Susan Illston, one of the league's lawyers, said the effect of the ruling probably would be to eliminate damages for the Raiders, at least if the trial testimony of Al Davis, the team's managing partner, is believed.
"He talked about how profitable it was to be in Los Angeles and how financially unrewarding it was to be in Oakland," she said. "Consistent with that theory, there ought to be a tremendous difference in value."
Federal courts ruled that the NFL's attempt to veto the Raiders' move to Los Angeles, under a league rule requiring approval by three-fourths of the club owners for franchise transfers, violated antitrust laws.
A U.S. District Court jury in Los Angeles awarded the Raiders $11.55 million and the Coliseum $4.86 million for lost profits between 1980 and 1982, amounts that were then tripled as antitrust law provides.
But the appeals court ruled today that by moving to Los Angeles, the Raiders obtained a benefit that belonged to the NFL--the value of a potential expansion franchise, which the league had developed.
"By taking possession of the Los Angeles expansion opportunity from the NFL, the Raiders reaped a windfall benefit beyond the scope of the antitrust verdict," said the majority opinion.