This past week, Law360 reported the Chicago White Sox filed a motion to dismiss a suit brought by Oakland Athletics’ outfielder Dustin Fowler earlier this month. The team argues that the claims brought by Fowler are governed by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which would require Fowler to pursue arbitration before filing suit in court.

New York Yankees fans may remember Fowler’s MLB debut for the team last June where he played two-thirds of an inning in right field before injuring himself chasing down a fly ball in foul territory. While chasing the foul ball, he ran into an electrical box mounted on the fence in foul territory down the right field line of Guaranteed Rate Field, the home field of the White Sox. The injury was diagnosed as an open rupture of the right patellar tendon and required season-ending surgery.  He was traded to the Athletics the following month.

The White Sox argued in the motion to dismiss that the claim brought by Fowler requires interpretation of the CBA and is therefore preempted. Under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LRMA), all state law claims that require interpretation of a CBA are preempted, and the LMRA applies to Major League Baseball’s CBA.

This comes on the heels of the White Sox and co-defendant Illinois Sports Facility Authority (ISFA), the Illinois state agency overseeing professional sports stadiums, filing a notice of removal to move the case to federal court earlier this month. This previous notice of removal argued that the negligence suit filed by Fowler is actually a labor dispute. The LRMA would necessitate the labor dispute to be moved to a federal court.

Fowler’s original complaint alleges that the White Sox and ISFA’s decision not to further inspect the fence and install padding around the electrical box showed “an utter indifference to or conscious disregard” to Fowler’s health. His claims included suffering “severe and permanent” internal and external injuries, mental anguish, and costly medical care related to the injury.

LJ Sanchez is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).

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