By Ben Klayman
(Reuters) - The city of St. Louis and other regional groups on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the National Football League and all its teams and owners, claiming the league violated its relocation guidelines when it allowed the Rams to leave the Midwest city.
The city, St. Louis County and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority, in a lawsuit filed in Circuit Court of St. Louis City, is seeking damages totaling more than $1 billion for the move by the Rams to Los Angeles from Missouri last year.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said there was "no legitimate basis" for the lawsuit.
"While we understand the disappointment of the St. Louis fans and the community, we worked diligently with local and state officials in a process that was honest and fair at all times," he said in an email.
Rams spokesman Artis Twyman said the team would not comment on pending litigation.
Since the Rams move, the San Diego Chargers announced their relocation to the Los Angeles market for the coming season. The Chargers and Rams will share a new stadium scheduled to open in 2019. In March, the owners also approved the eventual Oakland Raiders' move to Las Vegas.
Charges in the St. Louis lawsuit include breach of contract, unjust enrichment, fraudulent misrepresentation and business interference.
The city and other plaintiffs in a statement claim the NFL, the most popular U.S. sports league, failed to follow its own guidelines for franchise relocation even as it induced the city to spend "considerable time and money to generate a compelling new stadium development."
The plaintiffs said they made investments in the team's home stadium based on the NFL's policy requiring teams to work in good faith to remain in their home community, but team officials were aiming to move long before they made such plans public, the lawsuit said.
"The Rams never intended to engage in good faith negotiations with St. Louis," the lawsuit said.
In one instance, the plaintiffs cited a December 2016 interview with Rams former head coach Jeff Fisher, who said when he was hired in January 2012 he was told of plans to move to Los Angeles. Fisher was fired in December.
The plaintiffs said the loss of the Rams hurt the city and region and benefited the league and its owners, who received a $550 million relocation fee, the lawsuit said. Meanwhile, the value of the Rams increased by nearly $700 million.
Among other damages cited by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit were city and county bond obligations totaling $360 million, the loss of more than $100 million in net proceeds, $30 million for the installation of a new playing surface and other renovations, the loss of state revenue of more than $15 million and about $7.5 million in lost property taxes.
The city said it also contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to attract and retain an NFL team over the past 20 years, the lawsuit said. The sports complex authority spent more than $17 million during efforts to build a new stadium for the Rams.
(Additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto)