The Texas Supreme Court on Friday granted a motion that let NBC Universal and Comcast out of a fight over the sale of the Houston Astros, leaving only the claims involving the current and former owners of the team to be decided.
Current owner Jim Crane had sued former owner Drayton McLane, NBC and Comcast in 2013 alleging he was duped into paying $332 million for a stake in a regional sports network, Houston Regional Sports Network, when he bought the team in 2011. The total purchase price for the stake and the team was $615 million.
On Nov. 22 Houston Baseball Partners, the entity Crane created to buy the Astros from McLane, filed notice with the state’s high court that it was voluntarily dropping, or nonsuiting, the claims against NBC and Comcast. The same filing included a motion from NBC and Comcast to dismiss its petition for review.
“Here, HBP brings affirmative claims for relief against the Comcast defendants, and neither of the Comcast defendants brings claims for affirmative relief against HBP. Further, no judgment on the merits has been rendered, so HBP may take its nonsuit,” the filing reads. “HBP’s nonsuit does not affect any claims pursued against respondents/defendants McLane Champions LLC and R. Drayton McLane Jr.”
In a list of orders issued Friday morning, the Texas Supreme Court granted the motions. The justices heard oral arguments in the case on Oct. 25 and have not yet issued an opinion.
The main issue is whether HBP was misled about what affiliate rates the HRSN would be able to charge distributors of its programming. Lawyers for McLane and Comcast asked to have the lawsuit dismissed under the Texas Citizens Participation Act, which is a state law intended to bring an early end to baseless lawsuits seeking to chill free speech. A Harris County trial judge in January 2020 rejected those arguments and said the case should go to trial. The Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston did the same in June 2021.
McLane and Comcast appealed to the Texas Supreme Court in July 2021.
There are three issues pending before the Texas Supreme Court that are unaffected by Comcast and NBC being dropped from the suit:
- Does Crane’s entity have standing to sue, or did it sign away that right to an affiliate when purchasing the Astros?
- Does the TCPA apply to this lawsuit?
- Did the sale and purchase agreement contain a “disclaimer of reliance” clause forbidding HBP from bringing suit based on representations — such as the projected value of the network stake — not in the parties’ contract?
During oral arguments Justice Jimmy Blacklock expressed skepticism that Crane could recover any damages, noting that the value of the team he purchased has climbed nearly 600 percent. Forbes has recently valued the Astros franchise at $1.98 billion.
Messages left with counsel for HBP and McLane were not returned Friday.
Houston Baseball Partners is represented by Thomas M. Farrell and Charles B. Hampton of McGuire Woods and Ronald G. Franklin.
Comcast and NBC are represented by Andrew R. Kasner and Thomas F.A. Hetherington of McDowell Hetherington and Greg D. Andres, Dana M. Seshens and Brian M. Burnovski of Davis Polk & Wardwell.
McLane is represented by Charles L. “Chip” Babcock, Nancy W. Hamilton and Brett Kutnick of Jackson Walker, David J. Beck of Beck Redden and Wayne Fisher and Bernard G. Johnson III of Fisher Boyd Johnson & Huguenard.
The case number is 21-0641.