A federal judge on Friday vacated the scheduled trial date for LIV Golf’s federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour and indicated it might not start until May 2024 at the earliest, as the sides continue to work through discovery disputes involving Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the fund’s governor.
In a case management hearing on Friday, Judge Beth Labson Freeman of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California vacated a Jan. 11, 2024, trial date and pushed back the start of the trial at least four months.
Freeman had ruled earlier this week that the Public Investment Fund and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, are subject to discovery and depositions. She also overruled a decision by a lower court judge, which would have required the PGA Tour’s lawyers to depose Al-Rumayyan and other PIF officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The PGA Tour’s attorney said they were worried about their safety by going to Saudi Arabia. Freeman ruled the depositions can take place in New York.
Attorneys representing PIF and Al-Rumayyan have indicated they plan to appeal Freeman’s rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which will further delay the discovery process. The lawyers wrote in court documents that an appeal could take more than a year to resolve and another two years if the Supreme Court reviews the decision. It’s unclear if the Ninth Circuit will consider the appeal.
LIV Golf and its player plaintiffs had also sought to bifurcate its antitrust lawsuit from the PGA Tour’s countersuit, which alleges that LIV Golf interfered with the Tour’s contracts with players. Freeman denied that request on Friday.
“If the Court stays the trial for a year or more, as the Tour seeks, it could irreparably harm Plaintiffs,” LIV’s lawyers had argued in a motion. “On the other hand, if the Court grants bifurcation and the antitrust claims are tried in January 2024, the Tour could possibly have to defend those claims without evidence the Court has found relevant. Neither choice is perfect, but a lengthy stay of trial is by far the worst option. Discovery has disclosed the Tour’s ongoing efforts to destroy LIV and squash competition. Bringing an end to the Tour’s abusive and collusive practices is a matter of urgent importance to this sport and industry.”
The court rejected arguments from PIF’s lawyers that the fund and Al-Rumayyan were shielded from the tour’s subpoenas on the grounds of sovereign immunity because they were agents of a foreign government.
The court rejected PIF’s and Al-Rumayyan’s claims of sovereign immunity and lack of jurisdiction and ruled that their conduct fell within the commercial exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act. The court also rejected their personal jurisdiction defenses because they allegedly “directed their activities at the United States.”
On Sept. 29, the PGA Tour filed a countersuit against LIV Golf, accusing it of interfering with its contracts with players. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has suspended more than 30 players for competing in LIV Golf tournaments without conflicting-event releases. The Tour later added PIF and its governor as defendants.
Eleven LIV Golf players filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour on Aug. 3, accusing the tour of using its monopoly powers to squash competition. Three players who were suspended by the tour, Bryson DeChambeau, Matt Jones and Peter Uihlein, are still plaintiffs in that case, along with LIV Golf. Eight other players, including six-time major champion Phil Mickelson, had been plaintiffs but asked a judge to be removed from the case.
Earlier this week, a three-member arbitration panel in London ruled that the DP World could suspend and fine its members for competing in LIV Golf tournaments without conflicting-event releases.