Tuesday, October 23, 2007

11th Circuit Denies Standing to AT&T Mobility on Grounds NASCAR Did Not Invade a Legally Protected Right in Sponsorship Contract Dispute

Per AT&T Mobility, LLC v. National Ass'n for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc., 494 F.3d 1356 (11th Cir.(Ga.) Aug 13, 2007) (NO. 07-12299):

Standing, however, "is a threshold jurisdictional question which must be addressed prior to and independent of the merits of a party's claims." Dillard v. Baldwin County Comm'rs, 225 F.3d 1271, 1275 (11th Cir.2000); EF Hutton & Co., Inc. v. Hadley, 901 F.2d 979, 983 (11th Cir.1990). In fact, we are obliged to consider standing sua sponte even if the parties have not raised the issue because an appellate court "must satisfy itself not only of its own jurisdiction, but also of that of the lower courts in a cause under review." Bochese v. Town of Ponce Inlet, 405 F.3d 964, 975 (11th Cir.2005); see also Florida Ass'n of Med. Equip. Dealers v. Apfel, 194 F.3d 1227, 1230 (11th Cir.1999) (stating that "every court has an independent duty to review standing as a basis for jurisdiction at any time, for every case it adjudicates."). As with all jurisdictional issues, this Court reviews standing de novo. See, e.g., McKusick v. City of Melbourne, Fla., 96 F.3d 478, 482 (11th Cir.1996); Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 408 (11th Cir.1999).

For AT&T Mobility to have standing to challenge NASCAR's decision under the RCR Agreement to prohibit the display of the AT&T logo on the # 31 Car, it must establish that it has suffered an injury in fact. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560, 112 S.Ct. 2130, 2136, 119 L.Ed.2d 351 (1992). To establish injury in fact, AT&T Mobility must first demonstrate that NASCAR has invaded a "legally protected interest" derived by AT&T Mobility from the RCR Agreement between NASCAR and RCR. See Dillard, 225 F.3d at 1275 (11th Cir.2000) ( quoting Lujan, 504 U.S. at 560-61, 112 S.Ct. 2130).

. . .

The mere fact that RCR has opted to exercise its right to retain Cingular as its sponsor does not convert that option into a "legally protected right" for Cingular or AT&T Mobility under NASCAR's agreement with RCR. RCR's absolute discretion under the RCR Agreement to retain Cingular as its sponsor, and NASCAR's lack of a role in RCR's decision, foreclose the possibility that Cingular or AT&T Mobility is a third party beneficiary of such agreement. It is well settled that a "plaintiff generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties." Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); see also Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida v. Florida State Athletic Com'n, 226 F.3d 1226, 1230 (11th Cir.2000) ( "Absent exceptional circumstances, a third party does not have standing to challenge injury to another party.").

Because Cingular (now AT&T Mobility) was neither a party to nor an intended beneficiary of the RCR Agreement, it has not itself suffered a legally cognizable injury as a result of NASCAR's interpretation of the Addendum to the RCR Agreement. Thus, even though it might benefit collaterally from an interpretation of the RCR Agreement that is inconsistent with NASCAR's position, AT&T Mobility lacks standing to enforce its interpretation of the RCR Agreement.


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