Most contract litigation occurs after a breach, when the harm has already occurred. In such cases, the remedy can include monetary damages for losses and equitable relief to prevent future losses. However, a party who anticipates the other party to breach their agreement may file a pre-emptive lawsuit to seek a court order to prevent the breach. The pleadings in Right Field Rooftops, et al, v. Chicago Baseball Holdings, et al. filed January 20, 2015, illustrate this type of situation.
Anyone who strolls through Wrigleyville today and looks up at the rooftop grandstands could reasonably conclude that the Chicago Cubs’ ownership intended to expand business beyond the cramped footprint of the friendly confines. But long-time Chicagoans know fans have watched Cubs games from neighborhood roofs since the stadium opened in 1914. Although these rooftops have been thorns in ownership’s side for a hundred years, the Cubs did not threaten legal action until landlords on Sheffield and Waveland started charging admission on game days. A 2002 lawsuit temporarily settled the issue; Cubs ownership settled with rooftop landlords, granting viewing rights in exchange for 17 percent of their gross revenue for a period of 20 years.
Now the tables have turned and some rooftop owners are suing the Cubs. The rooftop owners make several claims, including antitrust collusion, price-fixing, defamation, fraud and breach of contract. The rooftop owners’ complaint seeks several remedies, including injunctive relief based upon anticipatory breach of contract by the Cubs.
The rooftop owners’ complaint accuses the Cubs of trying to consolidate control over the venues from which fans can view Cubs games, purchasing several rooftops and threatening those that refuse to sell with obstructions that would destroy their venue’s view of Wrigley Field. The rooftop owners quote the pertinent part of their license agreement with the Cubs as saying “The Cubs shall not erect windscreens or other barriers to obstruct the views of the Rooftop…” Yet, the Cubs’ renovation plans for Wrigley include six large advertising signs that could conceivably obstruct the view. The rooftop owners say that Cubs officials have verbally threatened to obliterate the view for any rooftops that will not sell out to the ball club. To protect their investment in the rooftop properties, the rooftop owners ask the court for “a permanent injunction prohibiting [the Cubs]…from installing outfield signage or anything else that will obstruct the views…”
Although a breach has not yet occurred, the rooftop owners know spring is just around the corner, and cannot wait to protect their investment. They may have good cause to seek an injunction for the remainder of the terms of their licenses. However, the licenses run out in less than 10 years, and their businesses may be running on borrowed time.
If you find your business in a similar situation, expecting a counter-party to a contract to breach, Schwartz & Kanyock, LLC can help. Our commercial litigators have more than 50 years of combined experience. To pursue the appropriate remedy for your case, call us at 312-436-1442 or contact our Chicago office online.