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Legally Speaking: Maricopa County has stepped up to the plate and responded

With spring training starting next week, the Maricopa County Stadium District has responded to the Arizona Diamondbacks’ complaint and it is clear that it has no intention of backing down, at least not anytime soon.

Last month, the Arizona Diamondbacks filed a lawsuit requesting the court make a determination that the agreement between it and the County is unenforceable and allow the Dbacks to explore alternative options (like another place to play) or partnerships (to get cash for Chase Field).

Put another way, the Diamondbacks do not believe the County can and will stick to the promises it made in the agreement and the team wants permission to look for a white night or another place to play baseball.

The County filed a “Motion to Dismiss” based on a technicality. The agreement between the parties contains an “arbitration clause.” As such, the County argues the parties are required to go to arbitration instead of to the courthouse.

The County did not address the team’s allegations that the County has insufficient funds to make the $185 million worth of repairs and improvements needed for Chase Field through 2027. The closest it came was explaining that it did not promise the Diamondbacks the field would remain “state of the art.”

It is not that the County doesn’t have a defense; it is that if the County defended all the allegations in the complaint, the D-Backs could argue the County waived its right to go to arbitration. Therefore, the County saved that fight for another day.

The arbitration clause found in the agreement is typical of those found in the majority of contracts. Section 21.4.1 states that binding arbitration “shall be the exclusive means for resolution of disputes between the Team and the District arising under, relating to, or touching upon this [agreement] or its subject matter, the parties’ performance under this [agreement] or any breach…”

In the complaint, the Diamondbacks allege this case falls within the narrow exceptions listed in the agreement — the County disagrees. Thus, this will be the first battle in the war: Do they go to arbitration or to court?

What exactly is arbitration? Think of it as a private trial. It is a trial that is conducted outside of a government courthouse. The parties choose and pay a private party (usually a lawyer) to decide the case. They each present argument and evidence much like they do in trial.

The advantages to private arbitration are that it usually takes less time to resolve a case and costs less than a courthouse trial. In this case, the parties also agreed that the decisions the private arbitrator makes will be binding, in other words, it will be final.

So what happens next? After the Diamondbacks file their response to the Motion, there are three possibilities.

First, the parties could resolve the issues without any further court hearings or an arbitration. But that is highly unlikely at this juncture.

Second, the judge could hear oral arguments and rule whether to keep the case in the courthouse or send it to arbitration.

Third, the judge could send the matter to a private arbitrator to decide whether the case should go to arbitration or not. I know, sometimes litigation becomes convoluted (actually, that’s an understatement).

Bottom line, a determination must first be made whether these parties are going to wage their war in the courtroom or in private arbitration. Looking into my crystal ball, it tells me the judge will send this matter to the arbitrator who will determine the entire case is subject to arbitration.

What does this mean for fans? Nothing — yet. Spring training will still start next week. What does this mean for the taxpayers? Nothing out of the ordinary, since it seems our leaders are always involved in some type of litigation.

This case has been brewing for a while and now we have both teams stepping up to the plate and ready to play ball. Let’s just hope they continue to play past 2027 in Arizona.

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