Judge: NHL to arbitrate co-owner's case against Predators
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The co-owner suing the Nashville Predators will have to plead his case against the franchise's ownership before NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman after a judge refused his bid to keep his lawsuit in a Tennessee court.
According to online court records, Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle issued her ruling Friday after hearing arguments July 20. But her ruling dismissing David Freeman's request for a stay of arbitration had not been posted as of Friday afternoon. At least parts of the order likely will be sealed or redacted.
The Tennessean first reported the ruling.
The former Predators chairman and Commodore Trust sued Predators Holdings LLC and current team chairman Tom Cigarran on June 23 seeking $250 million in damages arguing his original 48 percent stake has been diluted.
''We are pleased with the ruling of Davidson County Chancery Court, as it reaffirms our position from the beginning that Mr. Freeman's claim was meritless, frivolous, and that this issue should be resolved by the NHL as mandated by the NHL Constitution,'' the Predators said in a statement. ''The organization does not plan to comment further on this matter at this time.''
The lawsuit states that Freeman, through Commodore Trust, organized the Holdings investment group in 2007 to keep the Predators in Nashville. But it charges that some Holdings members ''have conspired to repay his dedication to the team and community by claiming that Commodore owns less than one percent of Holdings.''
The lawsuit also states that members of the Predators ownership group have refused to treat Commodore Trust as an owner and have repudiated Holdings' ''commitment to compensate plaintiffs in return for tens of millions of dollars of loan guarantees that kept the Predators solvent and in Nashville.''
The complaint names Cigarran ''the chief architect of this scheme.''
Freeman has been involved in other NHL arbitration cases over the past year but argued in the lawsuit that Bettman cannot be impartial because of his obligation to protect the league.
Attorneys for Freeman and Commodore Trust argued July 20 before Lyle that league rules are so overly broad that they wrongly could allow the commissioner to arbitrate this case. They also argued Freeman is technically not a co-owner of the team but rather an investor in a trust whose business dispute should not be decided by the commissioner.
Lawyers for both Predators Holdings and the NHL defended the commissioner's impartiality and the league's constitution, which gives Bettman the right to handle disagreements among both clubs and owners through arbitration. They also said Freeman agreed to arbitration when he signed consent agreements as part of buying the Predators in December 2007.