By Jeff Barker
The Baltimore Sun
7:40 PM EDT, June 28, 2013
A Prince George's County Circuit Court judge dismissed a small portion of Maryland’s suit against the Atlantic Coast Conference on Friday and put the rest on hold pending the resolution of a case in North Carolina.
Both suits are part of a legal tangle that ensued after Maryland — one of the ACC’s original members — announced in November 2012 that it was departing for the Big Ten, effective in July 2014.
Friday’s decision by Judge John Paul Davey was a victory for the ACC, but not a complete one. Davey accepted the ACC’s argument that the two cases should not proceed simultaneously because they were too similar to be treated independently.
But the judge left intact most of Maryland’s lawsuit that the ACC had hoped to dismiss.
Following the judge’s order, Maryland released a statement noting the case was still alive.
”There is a case in Maryland and we are reviewing the court’s ruling and our options as we go forward,” said David Paulson, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
Boston-based attorney James D. Smeallie, who argued the case for the ACC, referred a media inquiry to the conference. The ACC had no immediate comment.
The ACC struck first last November, asking a North Carolina court to declare that Maryland is subject to the full exit fee — $52,266,342 — for announcing it was leaving the conference.
Maryland countered with its own suit alleging that the exit fee is anti-competitive and should not be enforced.
Maryland’s suit also said the ACC is improperly withholding shared conference revenues from the school. In December, the conference withheld a distribution of about $3 million owed to Maryland as what it called an “offset” against the exit fee.
Maryland had not officially informed the ACC of its planned departure until this week. The school argued in court that the ACC was wrong to withhold conference revenues since Maryland had not yet provided formal notice.
Maryland provided notice this week. The school declined comment on the timing.
The ACC argued last month that Maryland’s suit should be dismissed.
But Davey left three of Maryland’s four counts intact, dismissing only a count in which Maryland alleged its economic and competitive standing was harmed by leaving the ACC. The judge said Maryland had publicly declared that it gained financially from joining the Big Ten.
Davey stayed the rest of Maryland’s suit pending the outcome of the North Carolina case. Maryland is seeking to dismiss the North Carolina-based suit on grounds that the court there lacks jurisdiction.
“The decision of the North Carolina Court and the decision by this Court could be similar to one another, could directly compete with one another, and/or could leave unresolved issues,” the judge said in a 36-page opinion.
“Permitting both matters to proceed simultaneously plainly risks inconsistent and/or competing determinations of fact and law, an outcome this Court seeks to avoid,” his opinion said.
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