Shot Clock is Running on the Panini v Leaf Lawsuit

Shot Clock is Running on the Panini v Leaf Lawsuit

The Panini v. Leaf case may be heading to a rapid conclusion. Last week, Leaf said, “Enough is enough,” and filed a motion for summary judgment.

Legal translation: It’s Leaf’s position that there is no evidence to support Panini’s lawsuit against it, so Leaf wants the judge to blow up the case. Now.

March Madness is starting early this year. Someone put 24 seconds on the shot clock.

Normally, motions for summary judgment are brought much later, after both sides have been locked into their positions and evidence. Leaf, however, feels that regardless of what offensive play Panini throws at it, Leaf’s defense will prevail.

I tend to agree with this play. Unless I’m missing something, here’s what happened: Before Kevin Durant signed his exclusive contract with Panini, he signed 750 stickers. No one has alleged that Durant’s signing of those stickers was in breach of contract, or wrongful in any way. Leaf then purchased those stickers on the secondary market. It appears that purchase was lawful also (at least no one has provided any evidence to the contrary). Despite all of this, Panini wants a court to order Leaf to deliver those stickers to it.

In its amended complaint, Panini explains its position:

is currently marketing the Best of Basketball Trading Card Series…As this series relates to Durant, Gray plans to utilize Durant autograph stickers he has acquired and “affix” the stickers on previously distributed Durant trading cards. To “append” the autograph signature sticker to a previously distributed trading card essentially creates a “new” Durant trading card. This is in direct violation of the contract between Durant and Panini.

Through Panini’s overuse of quotations, you can see that allegedly through “affix”-ing and “append”-ing these stickers, Leaf is “essentially” creating a “new” card that breaches the Durant/Panini contract.

I’m sorry, but, “So what?”

Just following common sense, Panini’s positioning shouldn’t work, and will barely allow it to get across half-court before eight seconds expire. A contract between two private parties should not affect property ownership of a third party that is not part of that contract.

Sure, that’s applying common sense, but since when does the law follow common sense? So, legally, who should win?

My bet is on Leaf. In Texas, if a third party acts within its own rights, that is a complete defense to a tortious interference with a contract claim. From what’s being alleged, that looks like the case here. The existence of the 750 stickers appears to be lawful, as does the purchase of those stickers. If so, well the purchaser can do whatever it wants with them.

In view of this, Leaf’s motion has very little downside. If it is denied, the case will continue just like it was going to anyway. And if it is granted, well, Leaf wins.

To stay in the game, Panini now has a limited window to heave its best evidence at the basket. Once it files its response, Panini’s shot “will be up.”

But will it be good?

Regardless, it gives us all one more “basketball game” to watch in March.

The information provided in Paul Lesko's "Law of Cards" column is not intended to be legal advice, but merely conveys general information related to legal issues commonly encountered in the sports industry. This information is not intended to create any legal relationship between Paul Lesko, the Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC or any attorney and the user. Neither the transmission nor receipt of these website materials will create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the readers.

The views expressed in the "Law of Cards" column are solely those of the author and are not affiliated with the Simmons Law Firm. You should not act or rely on any information in the "Law of Cards" column without seeking the advice of an attorney. The determination of whether you need legal services and your choice of a lawyer are very important matters that should not be based on websites or advertisements.

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Paul Lesko is a shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy and the chair of its Intellectual Property Department (http://www.simmonsfirm.com). Don’t hold the fact that Paul is a lawyer against him, he’s also a rabid baseball and college basketball fan, and an avid baseball card collector. Paul can be found on Twitter @Paul_Lesko and Google+.

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