The Arizona Diamondbacks will have to honor their contract and resolve by arbitration their differences with their landlord, the county, a judge ruled Thursday.
In January, the Major League Baseball team sued the county to break a 30-year lease and allow the franchise to seek a new home, arguing that Chase Field is no longer a safe and suitable venue for Major League Baseball.
The county, acting as the Maricopa County Stadium District, quickly filed a motion to dismiss the case and force the parties to arbitration. The district argued that the mutual Facilities Use Agreement required arbitration.
After oral arguments early this month, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Karen Mullins issued a ruling this week saying the county was right – but stopped short of throwing the case out entirely.
Rather, Mullins ruled that the dismissal will be stayed, pending the progress with arbitration. Mullins ordered the team and the county follow their agreed procedure for going to arbitration, and failing that, name an arbitrator within 10 business days, or August 29.
“In our case, the requirement to arbitrate applies to both the Team and the District and is broadly stated as including disputes between the Team and the District arising under, relating to or touching upon the FUA, the subject matter of the FUA, performance or breach of the FUA,” Mullins reasoned. "Importantly, however, if the District chooses not to litigate, both parties are still obligated to arbitrate assignments and transfers and the Team’s obligation to play home games at the stadium.”
The Diamondbacks' suit claimed the team was exempt from the arbitration restrictions. It had said the county breached the contract by failing to book enough special events to help pay for repairs and maintenance, and consequently the stadium no longer met MLB standards and in places was unsafe.
As a result, the team argued, it should be free to find a new home.
But the contract forbade the team playing elsewhere until 2028.
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The county argued that the team was trying “to wriggle free from the Diamondbacks’ promise to the District and the taxpayers to play home games at Chase Field for 30 years,” adding, “the filing of the complaint is, in and of itself, a breach of the Diamondbacks’ covenant.”
The Diamondbacks argued the team needed court intervention to “to preserve the status quo and prevent immediate and irreparable harm.”
The judge was not amused.
“Courts are not in the business of substituting their judgment for the judgment of the parties in regard to the details of arbitration exceptions through the guise of mutuality or consideration,” Mullins wrote.