Heading into deliberations, the questions facing the jury in the 2011 Super Bowl seating fiasco trial were pretty simple. The NFL -- accused of breach of contract and fraudulent inducement after the plaintiff fans were either relocated or denied seats entirely at the game -- has admitted to the breach of contract.
Lawyers for the league told jurors that all they have to decide is how much of the plaintiffs' claimed expenses from the game should be reimbursed. As for the fans who were simply relocated from temporary seats that were deemed unsafe just before the game, their claims should be denied. The relocated plaintiffs say they had an obstructed view, hence the fraud claim, but the NFL says the views weren't obstructed. And even if they were, that's not enough the constitute fraud, NFL attorney Thad Behrens said.
Then, after both sides rested their respective cases, things got interesting.
As the jury began considering its verdict, an article by sports business reporter Darren Rovell was posted on ESPN.com. Rovell interviewed Scott Suprina, the president of Seating Solutions, the company charged with installing the temporary seating that ended up being unusable.
Suprina told Rovell that NFL influenced the testimony he gave when he was deposed for the lawsuit. From Rovell's article:
"They encouraged me not to tell the whole story," Suprina said. "They reinforced what my position should be before the deposition."
DreamSeat LLC, a sister company of Seating Solutions, had its license to put NFL logos on furniture revoked three days after the Super Bowl seat debacle, Suprina said, costing him millions of dollars in future orders. Suprina said he was led to believe that if he cooperated with the NFL under the bus, DreamSeat -- which previously had an NFL license for four years -- would get its license back.
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Upon seeing the article, the plaintiff's attorney in the lawsuit, Michael Avenatti, hustled back into U.S. district court to ask that Judge Barbara Lynn suspend jury deliberations so Suprina's statement could be investigated. Lynn did not stop the deliberations but said she would be open to issuing a subpoena for Suprina so the plaintiff's could continue their investigation, according to media reports.
If what Suprina told Rovell is true, a potential mistrial would be the least of the NFL's worries.
"If the NFL promised -- or even insinuated -- that it would reward Mr. Suprina for favorable testimony, that would be highly inappropriate. If that did in fact take place, the NFL would be a lot of hot water with Judge Lynn and likely with federal prosecutors, too," says Chad Ruback, a prominent Dallas appellate attorney.
If the jury were to reach a verdict before the investigation into Suprina statement ends, according to Ruback, Lynn will likely withhold signing the judgement until the investigation is complete. Because the trial is so close to its end, he says, there's not the same risk of a tremendous amount of time being wasted as there would've been had this issue come early in the trial.