Originally created 09/30/03

ACC, Miami lawyers make case for dismissal



ROCKVILLE, Conn. -- Attorneys for the Atlantic Coast Conference and Miami acknowledged Monday their clients have some business dealings in Connecticut, but say those contacts don't warrant being sued in the state over the ACC's expansion plans.

The attorneys asked Rockville Superior Court Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds the lawsuit filed by Connecticut and three other Big East football schools.

UConn, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and West Virginia contend they have spent millions on their football programs based on presumed loyalty from schools they had been aligned with. They are seeking unspecified monetary damages.

The schools accuse Miami and the ACC of participating in a conspiracy to weaken the Big East. Big East members Miami and Virginia Tech will join the ACC in 2004.

"The ACC has no employees, offices, bank accounts, telephones in Connecticut," ACC attorney Larry Sitton said.

Jeffrey Mishkin, the lead counsel for the Big East plaintiffs, told the judge that since 1999 Miami has had more than 300 separate business dealings in Connecticut, including dozens of athletic games.

Mishkin also said Miami was tied to Connecticut because it signed, along with other Big East members, the agreement accepting UConn as a future football member of the Big East. As a condition of that agreement, UConn built a $90 million stadium and upgraded other related facilities, he said.

He argued Miami has done about $4 million in business over the past five years in Connecticut. Miami officials once signed a form acknowledging they could be sued in Connecticut if they failed to pay a bill from a Hartford hotel, Mishkin said.

But Miami attorney Eric Isicoff countered that any business conducted in Connecticut amounted to sporadic contacts. The hotel contract, he said, was a "boiler plate" form. Other instances included an insurance policy, lecturer fees, computer services and other unrelated transactions that represented less than 2 percent of Miami expenses since 1999.

The conference has two contracts with Bristol-based ESPN, Sitton acknowledged. But both were negotiated in North Carolina, where the ACC is based, and none of the televised games are in Connecticut, Sitton said.

"It's unrelated contact," Sitton argued. "If ESPN was the plaintiff it would be a whole different ballgame."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal vigorously disputed that notion. Television contracts, he said, are a critical part of the conspiracy theory.

"They sought to cripple the Big East so that they would profit from increased TV contracts from ESPN, which is located in Connecticut," Blumenthal said.

The judge did not immediately rule. He did agree to keep the monetary amounts of the ACC-ESPN contracts under seal.

"The parties negotiated with expectations that the numbers would be confidential," the judge said.

The original lawsuit listed Boston College as a defendant and Virginia Tech as a plaintiff. When the ACC formally invited only the Hokies and the Hurricanes this summer, the lawsuit was amended. Tech is no longer a plaintiff, Boston College was dropped as a defendant.

Hugh Keefe, a New Haven-based attorney also representing the ACC, said the conference cannot be sued in Connecticut because it is an unincorporated voluntary partnership and the so-called "long-arm law" which allows certain out-of-state concerns to be sued in Connecticut, has no provision for such an entity.

"Frankly, the legislature messed up," Keefe said. "There's no case law to to support that."

Isicoff said if the judge finds there is enough evidence to keep the case in a Connecticut court, his ruling will affect schools across the country.

"In essence...every university that conducts any kind of business can be sued in any jurisdiction in the country," Isicoff said.

Sferrazza did not say when he would rule.