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Alex Rodriguez's Ongoing Legal Battle to Overturn His MLB Suspension

By Danielle Browne

On January 11th, Fredric Horowitz, an independent arbitrator, upheld the majority of a 211-game suspension levied against New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez's suspension is based on his role in the Biogenesis performance enhancing drug (PED) scandal. Horowitz ruled there was "clear and convincing evidence" that Rodriguez used three banned substances (testosterone, Insulin-like Growth Factor-1, and human growth hormone) in violation of the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA), and twice tried to obstruct Major League Baseball's (MLB) drug investigation in violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Horowitz's ruling stated that "[d]irect evidence of [the JDA] violations was supplied by the testimony of Anthony Bosch [Biogenesis founder] and corroborated with excerpts from Bosch's personal composition notebooks, BBMs [Blackberry messages] exchanged between Bosch and Rodriguez and reasonable inferences drawn from the entire record of evidence."

Although Horowitz trimmed the suspension to 162 games (the entire 2014 regular season and postseason), it remains the largest penalty for PED use in MLB history. In his decision, Horowitz wrote, "[w]hile this length of suspension may be unprecedented for a MLB player, so is the misconduct he committed."

Just two days after Horowitz's ruling, Rodriguez filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), seeking to overturn the season-long suspension. Specifically, the lawsuit seeks to vacate Horowitz's decision, hold the MLBPA responsible for its alleged breaches of the duty of fair representation, and hold the MLB responsible for violating the CBA by imposing a suspension on Rodgriguez without just cause.

Vacating the Arbitration Award

Rodriguez's complaint alleges that Horowitz's ruling must be vacated for four reasons:

(1) It "does not draw its essence from the collectively bargained agreements." Rodriguez argues that the 162 game suspension disregards the "progressive, disciplinary framework set forth in the JDA." The JDA establishes a 50-game suspension for the first doping offense, 100 games for the second offense and a lifetime ban for the third. While Rodriguez proclaims his innocence, he argues that he should have been suspended for 50 games, at most, as a first-time offender under the JDA;

(2) Horowitz "exhibited a manifest disregard for the law." Rodriguez claims that Horowitz denied his legal team the opportunity to cross-examine Bosch and Selig. Additionally, Rodriguez's legal team was denied the right to examine the BlackBerry devices that MLB alleges were used to transmit incriminating text messages between Rodriguez and Bosch;

(3) Horowitz "acted with evident partiality"; and

(4) Horowitz refused to "entertain evidence that was pertinent and material to the outcome."

Courts, generally, review arbitration awards with great deference. If the arbitration proceeding is conducted in a fair and impartial manner, courts do not vacate the ruling or interfere with the arbitrator's relaxed evidentiary standard. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has held that an arbitral decision may be vacated when an arbitrator has exhibited a manifest disregard for the law (i.e. something beyond and different from a mere error in the law or failure on the part of the arbitrators to understand or apply the law.) This is difficult standard to meet. Although Rodriguez's legal team has alleged that Horowitz's conduct meets the standard, it is not clear that this is true.

Duty of Fair Representation

The duty of fair representation obligates unions to represent its members fairly, in good faith, and without discrimination. Rodriguez's complaint alleges that the MLBPA "completely abdicated its responsibility to Rodriguez to protect his rights" by failing to stop MLB from leaking prejudicial information and using abusive investigative tactics. Further, the complaint alleges that"[t]his inaction by the MLBPA created a climate in which MLB felt free to trample" on Rodriguez's confidentiality rights.

Like challenges to arbitration awards, the courts have taken a deferential approach when reviewing union-member conduct. The courts have held that a union only breaches the duty of fair representation when it acts arbitrarily, discriminatorily or in bad faith. Furthermore, the courts have refused to classify union decisions as arbitrary as long as they were based on a reasoned decision by the union. Therefore, Rodriguez will likely have a difficult time proving his duty of fair representation claim.

Barring success in the federal court, Rodriguez stands to lose $25 million in salary for 2014, lost opportunities for bonuses, and playoff money. Additionally, Rodriguez will be turning 40 years old in the 2015 season, and there are substantial doubts that he can return to the plate with success after this suspension.

The complaint: https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1004908/ar-complaint-1.pdf

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 14, 2014 8:20 PM.

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