Billy Hunter, the ousted National Basketball Players Association executive director, suffered another loss in his breach of contract lawsuit when a judge dismissed all claims against the union’s ex-president.
Hunter, who was fired in February 2013 after a 16-year tenure, in May sued the NBPA and Derek Fisher, the former association president, claiming breach of contract and defamation.
Judge Huey P. Cotton in state court in Los Angeles dismissed 12 of Hunter’s 14 claims against Fisher on Jan. 15 while allowing claims against the union to go forward. He issued a supplemental ruling Jan. 16, which was made public yesterday, dismissing the remaining two claims against Fisher.
“We are pleased that the court has now dismissed all of Mr. Hunter’s claims against the individual defendants and ordered Mr. Hunter to pay for fees and costs for having improperly included these individuals in the lawsuit,” Christina Sarchio, an attorney for the union with the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, said today in an e-mail. “We look forward to defending the remaining claims as the players acted appropriately in terminating Mr. Hunter.”
David Anderson, a lawyer for Hunter with Sidley Austin LLP, wasn’t immediately available for comment today, his spokesman Bill McBride said. In a statement last week, Anderson applauded Cotton’s Jan. 15 decision, saying the ruling supported Hunter’s position that his contract was valid.
Hunter accused the union and Fisher of engaging in secret negotiations with team owners to end the 2011 NBA lockout. Hunter claimed Fisher waged a campaign to displace him as retaliation for a disagreement over union negotiations during the lockout. In his complaint, Hunter also alleged that a 2010 extension of his contract continued his employment until June 30, 2015.
Fisher argued that he couldn’t be held liable on Hunter’s claims of interference because he was acting on behalf of a party to the contract, Cotton said in his opinion. The judge agreed, ruling that agents and officers who act on behalf of a party to a contract have “near absolute immunity”
“It is true that only a stranger can be liable for interference,” Cotton said. “Therefore, this court’s consideration of possible mixed motives of Fisher to any actions taken by him to encourage termination of the Hunter employment contract cannot serve as a basis for limiting the immunity.”
Players’ representatives from 24 of the 30 NBA teams voted unanimously in February 2013 to oust Hunter. The dismissal came a month after a union audit found that he failed to manage conflicts of interest, lacked proper corporate governance and didn’t disclose that his $3 million-a-year contract wasn’t properly ratified.
The audit, conducted by the New York-based law firm Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison LLP, concluded that while Hunter’s actions weren’t illegal, they reflected poor judgment.
Hunter issued an online rebuttal to the audit, saying his contract was valid and that he always put players first.
His suit against the union and Fisher also named Fisher’s publicist Jamie Wior as a defendant. Cotton threw out Hunter’s claims against Wior in his Jan. 15 ruling.
Fisher’s term as president expired last year. Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul was elected as his successor in August.
The case is Hunter v. Fisher, LC100771, Los Angeles County Superior Court (Van Nuys).
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