San Jose loses appeal in lawsuit against MLB over plan to move Oakland Athletics

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SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of antitrust claims in a lawsuit by the city of San Jose against Major League Baseball, which accused the sport of illegally blocking a proposed move of the Oakland Athletics to the area.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously Thursday that the claims were barred by baseball's antitrust exemption, established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1922 and upheld in 1953 and 1972.

San Jose sued MLB in June 2013 for conspiring to block the relocation. San Jose is in Santa Clara County, part of the San Francisco Giants' territory under MLB's constitution. The city said the territory rules violated federal antitrust laws.

U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte dismissed most of San Jose's claims in October 2013 but ruled the city could move forward with its count that MLB illegally interfered with an option agreement between the city and the A's for land.

"The city of San Jose steps up to the plate to challenge the baseball industry's 92-year old exemption from the antitrust laws," Judge Alex Kozinski wrote. "It joins the long line of litigants that have sought to overturn one of federal law's most enduring anomalies."

Kozinski said only Congress or the Supreme Court could determine the fate of the exemption. In concluding, Kozinski gave a nod to Ernest Thayer's poem "Casey at the Bat."

"Like Casey, San Jose has struck out here," the judge wrote.

Judges Barry G. Silverman and Richard R. Clifton also sat on the panel, which heard oral arguments in August.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said the city "has nothing but upside to continue to pursue this to the Supreme Court."

"When the City Council decided to pursue this lawsuit, we knew that success would likely require a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, because only the Supreme Court can revisit its century-old decision that created an anti-trust exemption that no American industry other than Major League Baseball enjoys," Liccardo said in a statement. "San Jose should be allowed to compete with other cities for major league teams, and I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the nation's fundamental predisposition toward fair and free competition."

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called the decision a win for baseball. Rob Manfred, who succeeds Selig on Jan. 25, hoped the ruling would lead to an end of the lawsuit.

"Litigation often distracts people from what the real issue is," he said. "The real issue for us going forward is that Oakland needs a new ballpark, and we need to get focused on making sure that we get that done as fast as we can."

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