The latest on Florida State, ACC, Clemson lawsuits (2024)

The dueling lawsuits between Florida State and the ACC are playing out in courts: Florida State University Board of Trustees vs. Atlantic Coast Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference vs. Board of Trustees of Florida State University.

We’re using this as a landing spot for the latest updates with FSU’s case (filed in Leon County), the ACC’s case (filed in Mecklenburg County, N.C.) and ones between Clemson and the ACC as the Seminoles and Tigers weigh a potential exit from the league — a move that could trigger another round of conference realignment.

The latest (June 6, 2024): The ACC has filed an appeal of a ruling in FSU’s case in Leon County. We’re still digesting the document, filed Wednesday in Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. The ACC wants the appeals court to review a rejection of its attempt to pause the Leon County case while its suit against FSU proceeds in North Carolina.

Here’s the first, telling line: “In this high-profile lawsuit over the interpretation of college sports contracts, the trial court committed a judicial foul.”

You can read our full story on that filing here.

June 5, 2024: Clemson’s case against the ACC in South Carolina appears to have a hearing set for July 12. I haven’t seen that show up in South Carolina court records. But it’s included an updated filing in North Carolina (where the league has sued Clemson).

May 31, 2024: Clemson is trying to speed up one key part of its suit against the ACC in South Carolina. The school filed a motion for partial summary judgment to see who owns the TV rights to Clemson games after the Tigers leave the ACC.

Clemson argued that the “plain, unambiguous language” of the ACC’s TV contracts with ESPN and a related document, the grant of rights, make it clear that they’d belong to the school, not the conference. The ACC disagrees. Hundreds of millions of TV dollars and (practically speaking) the Tigers’ attractiveness to other conferences hinge on this interpretation.

Clemson’s argument is nearly impossible to follow in Thursday’s filing because of heavy redactions to protect the confidentiality of the ESPN contract. One paragraph starts with, “In the plainest terms possible” and is followed by 13 blacked-out lines.

Summary judgment can allow courts to interpret legal issues without a full trial.

Clemson seeks a hearing on the issue or before July 12.

May 28, 2024: The FSU-ACC case in Leon County officially has its next court date: June 18. It’s scheduled to last all day, according to the latest court filing.

May 14, 2024: The FSU-ACC case in Leon County is scheduled to have a case management conference on May 21.

May 10, 2024: A North Carolina judge has paused proceedings in the ACC’s lawsuit against Florida State.

Judge Louis A. Bledsoe III granted the stay because FSU is appealing the conference’s complaint to the North Carolina Supreme Court. That means discovery and pleadings won’t happen in the North Carolina Business Court until the state supreme court issues a final resolution.

The latest on Florida State, ACC, Clemson lawsuits (1)

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The ACC wanted discovery — the production of relevant documents — to continue in North Carolina during the appeal because discovery is likely to take place in Leon County, too (where FSU separately sued the ACC). FSU wanted everything to be paused during the appeals process. Specifically, FSU wants the courts to revisit its claim of sovereign immunity, which could prevent a North Carolina court from hearing a case involving a Florida state entity.

May 8, 2024: The latest round of filings include a detail that I either didn’t know or had forgotten: the exact length of the ACC’s contracts with ESPN. What the league calls its multimedia agreement is 104 single-spaced pages, according to a memo filed Tuesday in South Carolina (where Clemson is suing the ACC). That deal spells out details on ESPN airing the home games of ACC members. There’s also a separate deal between the ACC and ESPN about the ACC Network. It’s 43 single-spaced pages.

The contracts are a key part to the lawsuits between FSU/Clemson and the ACC. The league keeps them on a need-to-know basis to protect confidentiality and guards the details tightly. A South Carolina judge has ordered the ACC to provide a copy to Clemson, which must maintain that confidentiality. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has separately filed a public-records lawsuit over the production of this information.

May 7, 2024: The ACC has (as expected) filed a motion to dismiss Clemson’s lawsuit against the league. Its two primary arguments: the conference is not under the personal jurisdiction of the South Carolina court and there’s another suit pending elsewhere.

“Put simply, the ACC is not ‘at home’ in South Carolina...” the league’s motion said.

Instead, the ACC is based in North Carolina with North Carolina contracts and a pending lawsuit against FSU in North Carolina.

The conference also makes an issue on timing — why Clemson sued the league when it did. The ACC notes it was filed “after briefing on issues in ACC v. FSU was compete and on the eve of oral argument” in that case.

The conference repeats a key concern: What if a North Carolina court rules one way and a South Carolina court rules another? That’s an argument for centering them all in North Carolina. If multiple suits continue in multiple venues and ultimately disagree, the league’s motion said, “the parties will have achieved nothing more than chaos.”

Also Tuesday, Leon County Judge John C. Cooper has filed his ruling from the first hearing between FSU and the ACC. Consider it the formal document backing up his initial ruling (which rejected the ACC’s motion to pause the case in Tallahassee). The ACC wanted the Tallahassee cause paused while its complaint proceeded in North Carolina. Cooper rejected that, saying it was a “virtual classic case of anticipatory filing.” Those types of actions are often viewed as forum shopping, which is frowned upon.

Cooper also wrote that there were “significant questions” about sovereign immunity as it relates to FSU.

Cooper is expected to file another order from the second hearing last month when he dismissed FSU’s case against the ACC while allowing the Seminoles to refile it. If he has filed that document, it is not yet in the court system.

May 6, 2024: Clemson, as expected, as filed a motion to dismiss the ACC’s complaint against the school. The Tigers said that North Carolina court does not have personal jurisdiction over Clemson, which has sovereign immunity as a South Carolina state entity. The school also said the conference’s lawsuit does not have “an actual, justiciable controversy.”

Clemson’s 28-page brief provides the best summary of how it’s complaint is different than the one filed by FSU: The Seminoles have challenged the validity and enforceability of the grant of rights (the contract in which FSU and Clemson gave their TV rights to the ACC, who sold them to ESPN). Clemson did not challenge that contract’s validity or enforceability. Instead, the Tigers have merely asked a South Carolina court to interpret what the contract means. Does it mean the ACC has the TV rights to every Clemson home game played between now and the 2035 season? Or does the ACC only have the rights to Clemson home games as long as the Tigers are members of the ACC?

Clemson has also filed a motion to stay (or pause) the North Carolina case while the complaint in South Carolina proceeds.

May 3, 2024: The ACC must provide an unredacted copy of its ESPN contract to Clemson within seven days, a South Carolina judge has ordered in an interim ruling. But the contract remains confidential and can only be used for the litigation. That news comes from a filing submitted Friday morning. The contract is central to Florida State’s lawsuits with the ACC, too; last week, Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a legal complaint against the ACC over the document.

May 2, 2024: Clemson’s amended complaint against the ACC is now public. The biggest change (at first glance) is that the Tigers are now seeking damages from the conference. Clemson says the ACC “slandered its title,” regarding its future TV rights.

Here’s our story on the Tigers’ new arguments.

April 18, 2024: The next hearing has been set in Charlotte. It’s May 2 and will center on the status reports from both FSU and the ACC as the Seminoles appeal to North Carolina’s supreme court.

April 4, 2024: FSU repeats some of its technical arguments in its latest Leon County filing, but these two sentences about now-former commissioner John Swofford and current commissioner Jim Phillips stand out:

“(The) FSU Board’s contention is that the entire ACC enterprise has failed, particularly as to its Constitutionally-committed-to purposes, as well as the fact that the captains who guided it (Messrs. Swofford and Phillips) have run the enterprise aground. Plagued by conflicts of interest, motives of self-perpetuation and the abject abandonment of their preeminent responsibility to serve the members first, those Commissioners have skippered the enterprise to its existential brink.”

The first hearing in Leon County is scheduled for Tuesday.

March 26, 2024: While FSU’s lawsuit against the ACC played out publicly, discussion around Clemson’s litigation was quieter. According to the ACC, Clemson “authorized the filing of litigation against the Conference as early as 2023.”

I don’t yet know how or when the suit was authorized, but minutes from Clemson board of trustees meetings add smoke to the ACC’s claim. On Feb. 3 and April 21 of last year, the full board went into executive session, in part, “to receive legal advice regarding media rights agreements.” Those closed sessions spanned more than five hours total. The executive and audit committee also went into executive session on Feb. 2 and Oct. 6 for counsel on “athletic media rights” or “athletics media agreements.”

The minutes do not specify which agreements were discussed, but they all say no votes or action were taken during the closed session.

March 20, 2024: The ACC has sued Clemson in North Carolina, meaning we’re up to four lawsuits between the conference and its members. The ACC’s argument, essentially, is that Clemson signed the grant of rights and all relevant documents giving its TV rights to the league through 2036...and nothing has changed. The league seeks damages for breeching those deals through the Tigers’ lawsuit.

Two interesting nuggets: The ACC held a special meeting today to approve its suit before it was filed. That didn’t happen before the league filed its first complaint against FSU. We’ll see how much (if at all) that matters.

Secondly, the league’s complaint said Clemson “indicated a desire to work with” the ACC about its future. The Tigers wanted confidentiality and “protections that the ACC would not file a lawsuit against it.” Instead, Clemson ended up suing the ACC first.

March 19, 2024: Clemson has sued the ACC, following FSU’s lead. The case was filed Tuesday morning in South Carolina.

Here’s our story on that suit.

March 19, 2024: ACC members did not vote prior to filing the conference’s North Carolina complaint against FSU. But the president/chancellor of at least six schools were in favor of the filing, according to a sworn affidavit by Virginia president James E. Ryan (who chairs the ACC’s board of directors). Those schools were: Virginia, Syracuse, Duke, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

Whether the ACC had the authority to file its complaint without a full vote by the board is in dispute and will be important in whether the case is heard in North Carolina or Florida. FSU has argued that the ACC didn’t fully vote until Jan. 12, which means Florida State’s suit in Leon County was technically filed first. The ACC contends, in part, that it could file its first complaint because this lawsuit wasn’t “material litigation.”

March 13, 2024: FSU says ACC commissioners have engaged in “naughtiness” over the last 14 years. That’s the most interesting line in the school’s latest filing in Leon County. Most of the details of the alleged naughtiness have been previously stated. The school has accused now-former commissioner John Swofford of self-dealing by helping his son’s company in a media-rights negotiation and of strong-arming FSU into signing the ACC’s grant of rights.

There’s not much other new information in FSU’s response to the ACC’s motion to dismiss the Leon County case. But incoming ACC members Cal and Stanford continue to get picked on. In the context of schools pursuing other conferences, FSU’s attorneys write that Cal and Stanford were “so unmarketable” that they had to “forego almost all payments for media rights in the ACC.” Ouch.

March 4, 2024: The first hearing for FSU’s complaint against the ACC in Leon County has been scheduled. It will be April 9 in the Leon County Courthouse, according to court records, and will allow the judge, John C. Cooper, to hear the ACC’s motion to dismiss or stay FSU’s suit.

The North Carolina case (filed by the ACC) has a hearing scheduled for March 22.

Feb. 27, 2024: The ACC filed a brief with more technical arguments against FSU’s attempt to dismiss the conference’s North Carolina lawsuit. It discusses the definition of “all” and the practical legal difference between FSU and FSU’s board of trustees.

There were, however, two things of note. FSU previously argued the ACC failed to have its members vote to sue the Seminoles, thus breaking its own rules. The conference responded that it doesn’t have to, in part, because its ESPN contracts call for the league to “take all commercially reasonable actions” to defend them. That includes a lawsuit. The ACC also said its members approved the amended complaint it filed last month. According to an affidavit by a league official, the vote was unanimous. The document did not say how many schools were represented at the meeting.

The other is a response to FSU saying the ACC made a “race to the courthouse” to file its lawsuit first. The ACC’s response: “But FSU ignores the fact that if there was a race to the courthouse, FSU started it.”

Feb. 22, 2024: ESPN wants a North Carolina court to seal documents and information related to its contracts with the ACC. This is tangentially relevant to the FSU-ACC lawsuits because Florida State has been seeking copies of some of those records. FSU has also shared information from documents that, according to ESPN and the ACC, are confidential.

The notable line from Thursday’s filing by ESPN: “Whether FSU and its lawyers have committed a felony by knowingly disclosing ESPN’s trade secrets is a question for another day, but, relevant here, there is no question that trade secrets are carefully guarded throughout the United States, including in Florida.”

Feb. 16, 2024: The ACC has asked a Leon County judge to dismiss Florida State’s suit. One of its main arguments is that Florida isn’t the proper jurisdiction for the dispute. North Carolina (the ACC’s home state) is.

From the filing: “Florida State alleges no facts in support of its bare-bones venue allegation.”

Our full story on this update is here.

Feb. 9, 2024: The first formal court hearing has been set. It’s scheduled for March 22 in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, and will focus on the suit filed by the ACC. The judge, Louis A. Bledsoe III, ordered the hearing on the ACC’s motion to seal parts of the case over details (like ESPN contract information) it says are confidential. FSU’s motion to dismiss the case will also be heard.

Feb. 7, 2024: Florida State has asked a North Carolina court to dismiss the ACC’s complaint against the Seminoles. In a court filing Wednesday, FSU argued the conference submitted its suit before any controversy arose and didn’t get the necessary support from member schools. FSU also said the case should be in Leon County, not Charlotte. The full story is here.

Jan. 30, 2024: FSU filed an amended complaint in Leon County last night. The Seminoles accuse the ACC of “self-dealing.” That appears to be a reference to now-former ACC commissioner John Swofford making sure Raycom Sports was included in TV deals at a time when his son, Chad, worked for Raycom.

The 59-page complaint also (again) bashes the conference’s decision to accept SMU, Cal and Stanford. FSU cites TV viewership, where the three newcomers lag far behind the Seminoles. FSU’s filing states: “This alone demonstrates the ACC missed the point of conference realignment, and that its leadership deliberately decided to completely ignore its duty to the members to exploit their media rights. Indeed, the leadership chose the exact opposite and diluted those rights.” Our full story is here.

Jan. 17, 2024: The ACC filed an updated, 191-page complaint against FSU. There was enough in there to warrant its own, expanded story, which you can read here.

Jan. 13, 2024: FSU’s trustees have a North Carolina-based legal team in the ACC’s complaint against FSU. The attorneys named in court records filed Friday are Christopher C. Lam and C. Bailey King from the Charlotte office of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, LLP.

Both are experienced attorneys, but the most interesting part for college football fans is King’s background. He played football at Wofford and has been on the board of directors for its Terrier Club, which raises scholarship money. He has also served on the host committee for the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. King was part of the legal team that helped St. Petersburg get a $10.4 million jury verdict from Wachovia Global Securities/Wells Fargo four years after Lehman Brothers’ 2008 collapse.

Lam’s bio includes a role as “lead North America product liability counsel” for a major manufacturer. He also won a jury trial for a NASCAR owner in a $27 million case involving alleged defamation and a contract dispute.

Jan. 11, 2024: The ACC has hired a Florida-based legal team to represent the conference in the Leon County suit. It’s Lawson Huck Gonzalez, PLLC.

This procedural update from a Wednesday filing is noteworthy because of some of the names involved. Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson is one of the attorneys. So is Raymond F. Treadwell, who previously spent time as the chief deputy general counsel to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Jan. 9, 2024: The ACC served FSU its complaint within minutes of the school approving its own case against the conference, according to newly public North Carolina court records.

A Tallahassee official gave a copy of the ACC’s suit to FSU’s vice president for legal affairs and general counsel, Carolyn Egan, at 10:59 a.m. on Dec. 22. That’s about six minutes after FSU’s emergency board of trustees meeting ended and less than 20 minutes after trustees unanimously approved its own case. Those details come from an ACC legal filing dated Friday and processed by the court system this week.

Florida State’s suit was submitted at 11:26 that morning, according to Leon County court records. The ACC filed its case the day before.

The ACC also served copies of the suit to Jack Campbell — the State Attorney for the Tallahassee area — on Dec. 27 and to the state’s attorney general, Ashley Moody, on Jan. 3. A day later, Moody sent her own request to the ACC, asking for “financial, business and membership records” related to FSU along with some of the ACC’s communications and contracts with ESPN.

• • •

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The latest on Florida State, ACC, Clemson lawsuits (2024)

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