New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the National Football League didn’t violate state consumer fraud laws with its ticketing policies for the 2014 Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium, a decision that likely will spell defeat for a federal lawsuit that seeks potentially millions of dollars in damages.
The case stems from a 2014 suit brought by a New Jersey man who claimed he was forced to pay more than double the $800 face value for tickets on the secondary market because the NFL, following its established policy, released just 1 percent of tickets to the public through a lottery.
The rest of the tickets were withheld for teams, sponsors and other insiders.
Seattle defeated Denver 43-8 in the first Super Bowl held at a cold-weather location.
Josh Finkelman claimed the ticketing policy violated a New Jersey law — since repealed — that required 95 percent of tickets to an event be made available to the public. He has sought class-action status for himself and thousands of other fans.
Attorneys for the NFL argued that the lottery didn’t constitute a public sale, and thus didn’t trigger the consumer fraud law. They said it has been known for years — including by those in New Jersey who sought to attract the game — that the league doesn’t release Super Bowl tickets to the public in the same way as music concerts or even other sporting events do.
Finkelman’s suit was dismissed twice by a federal judge in New Jersey, but in 2017 a federal appeals court directed New Jersey’s Supreme Court to rule on the state law issue. Arguments were held in September.
Writing for a unanimous court Wednesday, Justice Anne Patterson wrote, “We do not consider the NFL’s distribution of other tickets to the 2014 Super Bowl to its teams, other selected individuals, and entities to constitute the unlawful withholding of more than five percent of ‘tickets to an event prior to the tickets’ release for sale to the general public’” under the relevant state law.
The 95 percent requirement applied only to the tickets made available in the lottery, all of which were released to the public, the justices reasoned. Tickets bought on the secondary market were never meant to be part of a public sale, Patterson wrote. The NFL prohibits lottery winners from reselling the tickets they purchase.
Bruce Nagel, an attorney representing Finkelman, called the ruling “mind-boggling.”
“This opinion basically contradicts the plain language of the statute,” he said.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ordered the state Supreme Court review, is expected to issue a ruling soon on the fate of the federal lawsuit.