Potential legal ramifications from latest twist in A-Rod saga

Friday August 16th, 2013

Alex Rodriguez could soon be hit with a lawsuit over the most recent allegations against him in the Biogenesis case.
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

According to 60 Minutes, members of Alex Rodriguez's "inner circle" acquired and shared with Yahoo! Sports documents that implicated Ryan Braun and Rodriguez's Yankees teammate, Francisco Cervelli, in the Biogenesis scandal. Rodriguez's attorney, David Cornwell, categorically denies 60 Minutes' report, which contends the sharing occurred in February. Cornwell portrays the report as a strategic attempt -- perhaps planted by baseball officials -- to undermine Rodriguez's reputation with other players while Rodriguez appeals a 211-game suspension. If untrue, the 60 Minutes report might constitute slander of Rodriguez, since it clearly damages his already sullied reputation. There is no indication, however, that Rodriguez will sue the show for slander. If he does not, his camp's denials of its story will ring less believable.

In addition to the possibility of suing over the 60 Minutes report, Rodriguez might himself be sued. There are potential legal consequences for him if he or someone acting on his behalf leaked damaging information about fellow ballplayers.

For starters, Braun and Cervelli could sue Rodriguez for tortious interference with contractual relationships. This is same legal claim baseball used in its lawsuit against Biogenesis, though here it would be structured differently. The theory would be that Rodriguez intentionally damaged the other two players' contractual relationships with their teams by making it possible or easier for MLB to suspend them.

Braun and Cervelli might also consider an unjust enrichment claim against Rodriguez. If A-Rod set up other players for suspensions it could be portrayed as not only traitorous, but as creating favorable precedent to challenge his own suspension. After all, he can better argue his 211-game suspension is excessive by being able to compare it to Braun's 65-game suspension and Cervelli's 50-game suspension. A defamation lawsuit against Rodriguez is also possible, but unlikely. If A-Rod or someone on his behalf shared Biogenesis information about Braun and Cervelli, a defamation suit would only work if the information was untrue, and the fact that those two players settled with baseball all but confirms their involvement with Biogenesis.

The players' association could also initiate steps to discipline or even expel Rodriguez as a union member on grounds that he engaged in unethical conduct and breached a duty of loyalty to other union members. MLBPA disciplining Rodriguez would not be an instant process. An investigation and hearings would have to take place. But the union will likely take these allegations seriously as it wants to assure its membership that players are not undermining one another's careers.

Even if the union takes no action against Rodriguez, his leaking of info would make it harder for Rodriguez to later sue the MLBPA. The union is legally obligated to fight on Rodriguez's behalf and its failure to do so could empower Rodriguez to sue it for breach of its duty of fair representation or to file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. But Rodriguez is much less likely to sue the MLBPA if, by doing so, MLBPA is able to use the pretrial discovery process to verify 60 Minutes' accusation.

CORCORAN: Union in a tough spot after latest A-Rod allegations surface

Lastly, Rodriguez's appeal of the 211-game suspension would be damaged if baseball can prove he sold out other players connected to Biogenesis. Arbitrator Fred Horowitz will look for evidence that Rodriguez violated Article VII (B) of the collective bargaining agreement. VII(B) prohibits conduct detrimental to baseball, which includes engaging in unethical or dishonorable conduct. Leaking damaging facts about other players and teammates probably constitutes the type of prohibited conduct intended by VII(B). Rodriguez's possession and sharing of Biogenesis documents would also help show he participated in the sale or distribution of prohibited substances, as barred by the Joint Drug Agreement.

Given the potential for Rodriguez to face lawsuits by Braun and Cervelli, and discipline by the players' association, he may now be more inclined to reach a settlement with baseball. Continuing his appeal, in contrast, could result in further evidence about him orchestrating a leak being made public. Baseball is aware of this dynamic and can use it as leverage in any settlement talks with Rodriguez. At this point, A-Rod agreeing to end his appeal would likely result in a suspension close to, if not equal to, 211 games.

Michael McCann is a Massachusetts attorney and the founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law. He is also the distinguished visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law.

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