Sports | July 20, 2020 1:23 pm

Astros Use First Amendment-Style Law as Defense in Sign-Stealing Suit

The team is invoking a law that's designed in part to protect the media from lawsuits

Astros Owner Jim Crane Says Sign Stealing "Didn’t Impact the Game"
Owner Jim Crane of the Houston Astros.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Houston Astros are claiming a First Amendment-style law that exists in Texas protects them in a lawsuit that has been filed by team season-ticket holders who are upset due to the club’s sign-stealing scandal, according to The Athletic.

In their lawsuit, ticket holders are claiming pre-scandal statements and press releases that were put out by the team touting the club’s success and hard work led them to purchase their seats. They also claim, due to the scandal, those releases are fraudulent.

The Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) was passed to enable media outlets and other organizations to speak, write and issue other non-commercial communications without fear of retaliatory lawsuits.

In court, the Astros are invoking the law by claiming that, since the organization issued press releases which were then used in news stories, ticket holders have no right to sue them based on the content of those releases.

“The Astros issued these press releases to assist journalists in gathering information for the creation and dissemination of journalistic work and also to promote press coverage in articles, newspapers, websites, magazines, social media platforms, and television or radio programs … (they) were not made by the Astros in any capacity as sellers or lessors of goods and services, did not arise out of commercial transactions for the Astros’ sale or lease of goods or services, and the intended audience of those press releases were journalists and the general public,” Anita Sehgal, the team’s senior vice president for marketing and communications, wrote in a court filing.

Naturally, the lawyer for the plaintiffs argued the Astros are not protected by the TCPA.

“The Astros are not the media, and the TCPA amendments protect the media,” said Marion Reilly of law firm Hilliard Martinez Gonzales. “The person or entity invoking the provision has to be part of the media, where they have to be engaged in the journalism business, such as a newspaper, magazine, news website or broadcaster. … Again, the Astros are not engaged in the journalism business, and they’re not the media. They’re a major league baseball club that ultimately hopes that the media will generally promote their business.”

The Harris County District Court judge hearing the case, Robert Schaffer, will rule on whether the Astros have legal standing to use the TCPA by August 16.

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