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Judge Jeffery M. Brown issues first rulings in case to Save the Crew

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A surprising first set of rulings give hope to Columbus.

MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-New York City at Columbus Crew Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

After two months of legal tussling between Plaintiffs State of Ohio and City of Columbus and Defendants Major League Soccer and Precourt Sports Ventures, Franklin County Judge Jeffrey M. Brown has issued his first orders and rulings in the lawsuit aimed at keeping Columbus Crew SC in Columbus.

Judge Brown issued rulings on the Plaintiffs’ motion to toll (pause) the six-month notice period found in Ohio Revised Code 9.67, the Defendants’ motion to stay (also pause) discovery, the Plaintiffs’ motion to compel discovery, the Defendants’ motion to dismiss the case and provided information to both parties on the status of the case moving during the next few weeks.

Motion to Toll

Judge Brown’s first ruling partially grants Ohio and Columbus’ motion to pause the six-month notice period. Rather than pausing the notice period until the case is completed, as the Plaintiffs requested, the Judge pauses the notice period for 90 days.

Additionally, Judge Brown suggests that by pausing the notice period, PSV has indeed provided the notice that sets off ORC 9.67. The actual date of notice will be determined later, if necessary.

Motion to Stay Discovery

After partially granting the motion to pause the ticking notice clock, Judge Brown also partially grants the Defendants’ motion to pause discovery but only for the length of the 90-day pause in the notice clock.

These two decisions operate as a pair. By putting this case on pause, Judge Brown gives himself time to fully consider the Defendants’ motion to dismiss and he gives the two parties time to work toward a settlement, which is likely in the best interest of all those involved. However, this motion was only granted in part. Judge Brown’s next comment is one of the biggest wins for the Plaintiffs to date:

Here, Judge Brown says that the Court will oversee the process of providing an opportunity for locals to purchase the team. If PSV and MLS do not cooperate, the Court will force their hand by itself determining which financial records are necessary for the process of valuing the team for potential offerors.

Additionally, Judge Brown directs the parties to work together on the creation of a non-disclosure agreement for prospective buyers (setting a seven-day deadline). If the parties cannot decide on the appropriate language for an NDA, the court will review each party’s NDA after the deadline.

Motion to Compel Discovery

Unsurprisingly, Judge Brown holds off on ruling on the Plaintiffs’ motion to compel discovery until a future date. This ruling was likely put off in hopes that the parties can reach an agreement before a ruling is necessary.

Motion to Dismiss

In light of Judge Brown’s rulings on the motion to toll and the motion to stay discovery, he defers ruling on the Defendants’ motion to dismiss until after the 90-day pause on the notice period. Here, Judge Brown is both encouraging the parties to work with each other toward a settlement and providing the Court ample time to consider the full breadth of the motion to dismiss.

What does this mean?

Overall, this is a resounding win for the Plaintiffs. Thus far, none of the Plaintiffs’ motions have been outright dismissed. While the Defendants’ motion to put a pause on discovery was granted, it was granted in light of Judge Brown also granting the Plaintiffs’ motion to pause the notice period.

Most importantly, Judge Brown seems to be giving the Plaintiffs exactly what they asked for in their third claim for relief from their initial complaint in this case. In their third claim for relief from the original complaint, the Plaintiffs asked for:

Continuing oversight by the court to ensure that PSV and MLS negotiate in good faith with the City of Columbus and any individual or group of individuals residing in the Columbus area a reasonable opportunity to buy the Crew.

Today’s response by Judge Brown does just that.

Above is the third claim for relief in the Plaintiff’s filing. That claim In their filing, the Plaintiffs asked the court to oversee the process of fielding offers, determining whether an offer was bonafide

In Judge Brown’s scheduling order provides further evidence of the Court’s intended oversight in the opportunity for locals to purchase the team.

From the above order, Judge Brown tells both parties that the Court will help them determine what constitutes a bonafide purchaser and that the Court will be in charge of receiving all offers from bonafide purchasers. That is the exact oversight sought in the initial complaint.

What happens next?

The Plaintiffs and Defendants must work together on three issues: 1. draft an NDA; 2. determine what records are necessary for review by bonafide purchasers; and, 3. determine what constitutes a bonafide purchaser.

The parties have seven days to draft an NDA together; if they can’t agree on the terms of an NDA, each party will submit a draft to the Court. The parties have 14 days to determine what records are necessary for review by bonafide purchasers; if they can’t agree then the Court will make that determination. The parties will individually meet with the Court within 21 days to discuss opportunities for settlement and to help decide what constitutes a bonafide purchaser.

Overall this is great news for Columbus fans.