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Lawsuit Against Columbus Crew Can Continue, Judge Rules

Adora Namigadde

The lawsuit to keep the Crew in Columbus will move forward, a judge ruled Monday.

Franklin County judge Jeffrey Brown denied Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt’s request to dismiss the lawsuit from the state of Ohio and city of Columbus.

In March, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein filed suit against Precourt and Major League Soccer. They argue that the Crew’s planned relocation to Austin, Texas, would not comply with state law.

Ohio's “Modell Law” states that an owner who has a tax-supported facility and receives government financial benefits cannot move a team without giving local government or residents the option to purchase it first. It was enacted when Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell relocated the football team to Baltimore after the 1995 season.

Lawyers for Precourt and MLS argued Modell Law does not apply to them because it is an unconstitutional obstacle to their right to conduct business.

“This is a unique case, for two main reasons," Brown writes in his statement. "First, the Court is faced with the challenge of interpreting a statute never addressed by any court. It’s a matter of first impression, so to speak. Second, to borrow words from defense counsel’s opening statement at oral argument, ‘this is an emotionally fraught case.’”

Monday’s decision allows the case to proceed.

Precourt did not comment on Monday's decision. An MLS statement called it disappointing.

Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, along with the Columbus Partnership, have announced a plan to purchase the Crew as an expansion team, while Precourt creates a separate franchise in Austin. Questions over a new stadium, and details about that purchase, are still unanswered.

Adora Namigadde was a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU News in February 2017. A Michigan native, she graduated from Wayne State University with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in French.