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Florida State appeals ACC lawsuit to North Carolina Supreme Court

Florida State appeals ACC lawsuit to North Carolina Supreme Court

Florida State formally has asked the North Carolina Supreme Court to review its initial legal loss to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In a filing from late Friday, the school argued that the North Carolina Business Court incorrectly ruled in favor of the ACC last month. FSU repeats many of its previous legal arguments in 59 pages. The petition for writ of certiorari focus on three points:

The first is that the ACC did not properly follow its voting protocols when it sued FSU on Dec. 21. The league’s constitution requires a two-thirds vote and proper notice before starting “any material litigation.”

The ACC did not hold a formal vote before it sued FSU in North Carolina (a day before the Seminoles sued the conference in Leon County). A lower North Carolina court determined that didn’t matter because the ACC voted to approve an amended complaint a few weeks later. Florida State said that ruling required “significant jurisprudential gymnastics” to justify.

FSU’s second point is related. The school contends the conference rushed to the courthouse so the case would be litigated in the ACC’s home court (North Carolina) instead of FSU’s home court (Tallahassee).

The ACC had a 33-page complaint prepared before Florida State met to approve its suit against the league. That, according to FSU, meant the ACC had “long planned behind the back of FSU to sue FSU, and been laying-in-wait for the opportune time to spring its hip pocket complaint … all for strategic advantage.” The party that sues first generally gets its choice of venue, but courts discourage hasty filings for tactical reasons — a process called forum shopping.

The final point is that the case belongs in Florida, not North Carolina, because Florida has the most at stake. The dispute centers on the TV rights for FSU home games at FSU facilities and aired from FSU after the Seminoles leave the ACC.

“What could possibly be more Florida-centric?” the filing asks.

Because FSU is a state institution, the school contends the case should be decided “by the state whose treasury is at risk.” That’s Florida, not North Carolina.

The addition to a state supreme court docket is the latest step in the months-long legal battle between FSU and its conference home since 1991. Both sides want clarity on the financial terms if the Seminoles leave. The exit fee alone is about $140 million. Add in withheld TV money until the ACC’s ESPN deal expires (as late as 2036), and FSU estimates the total cost to leave could reach $700 million — unless the agreements are deemed unenforceable by a court (or courts).

This petition is only one prong in FSU’s appeal. Another prong on personal jurisdiction and sovereign immunity is “on deck for consideration” by North Carolina’s Supreme Court in the next few months, FSU’s petition said. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has said she is considering action in that part of the case.

FSU lawsuit update in Leon County

The Florida State-ACC case also remains ongoing in Florida, and the school’s latest filing makes reconciliation seem even more unlikely.

FSU updated its suit late last week to address a judge’s jurisdictional concerns and took the opportunity to grow its complaint from seven counts to nine. In the updated complaint, FSU said the missions of the conference and school have diverged and that the Seminoles have become “an increasingly square peg trying to fit into a round hole.” The school said the ACC essentially has declared itself an “inferior athletics conference” by letting the Big Ten and SEC earn millions more in future College Football Playoff payouts.

The result: FSU must either “abandon its hard-won achievements or withdraw; in reality, no choice at all.”

Florida State has not formally said it will leave the league but said a court may issue a withdrawal notice retroactive to Aug. 14. FSU also seeks any “further relief” the courts consider fit.

FSU and the ACC are scheduled to engage in mediation this summer.

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