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Dynamo v. Ovechkin

January 18, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge


Petitioner, Moscow Dynamo ("Dynamo"), a Russian sports club, filed a petition pursuant to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, June 10, 1958, 21 U.S.T. 2517, 330 U.N.T.S. 38, reprinted in 9 U.S.C. § 201 (the "Convention"), seeking confirmation of an award against respondent, Alexander M. Ovechkin, who is currently playing professional ice hockey for the Washington Capitals (the "Capitals"). Dynamo claims that Ovechkin is contractually obligated to play for Dynamo during the 2005-2006 hockey season, and it seeks enforcement of a Russian arbitration award finding Ovechkin in breach of that contract and banning him from playing the 2005-2006 season for any club other than Dynamo. Pending before the Court is Ovechkin's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. A hearing on the motion was held on December 21, 2005. Upon careful consideration of Ovechkin's motion, the response and reply thereto, oral arguments, the governing statutory and case law, and the entire record, the Court concludes that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, petitioner's claim is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

I. Background

Respondent, Alexander Ovechkin, is a professional ice hockey player. He played hockey in Russia as a teenager with the Moscow Dynamo organization and Russian national teams. Pet. at ¶ 10. The Capitals selected him as their first overall pick in the 2004 National Hockey League ("NHL") draft on June 26, 2004, but the 2004-2005 NHL season was cancelled due to collective bargaining disputes between the league and the players' union. Pursuant to a contract dated July 1, 2004, Ovechkin played hockey for Moscow Dynamo, a member of Russia's Professional Hockey League ("PHL"). This contract was a Standard Player's Contract, and it required that all disputes arising out of the contract be arbitrated by the Arbitration Committee. The contract expired on April 30, 2005. On April 26, 2005, Dynamo sent a letter to Ovechkin, which offered him a new contract for the 2005-2006 season with a 30% pay raise. Pet.'s Opp. at Ex. C. Ovechkin neither responded nor acknowledged receipt of this letter.

On June 20, 2005, the NHL dispute had still not been resolved, and Ovechkin signed a one-year PHL contract with a second Russian hockey club, the Avangard Omsk ("Avangard"), for the 2005-2006 season. Pet. at ¶ 12. Like the 2004-2005 contract Ovechkin signed with Dynamo, this contract was a Standard Player's Contract and included an arbitration clause. On that day, Ovechkin agreed to a "Confidential Addendum to the Avangard Contract," which contained a compensation provision and a null and void clause. According to that addendum, the Avangard contract would become effective on July 21, 2005, "only in the case the player does not sign the agreement with the NHL Club Washington Capitals." Pet. Opp. at Ex. G. The Avangard Contract would be automatically void if Ovechkin signed a contract offered by an NHL team prior to midnight on July 20, 2005.

Dynamo contends that its April 26, 2005 letter to Ovechkin constituted a "qualifying offer" under PHL regulations. Pet. at ¶ 11. Under PHL regulations, a team that extends a valid qualifying offer retains "matching rights" to a player if the player signs a contract with another team. If a former team matches the financial aspects of the second contract, then the former team and the player automatically become parties to a binding contract, and the player must play for the former team. Award, Pet. at Ex. A at 5. To be enforceable, a matching offer is required to match only the term and the financial aspects of the player's new contract. Other, non-financial terms need not be matched. Id. at 4. Dynamo sent a letter to Avangard on July 1, 2005 which claimed to exercise its matching rights with respect to Ovechkin. Pet.'s Opp. at Ex. H.

On July 14, 2005, it was widely reported that the NHL and the Players Association had reached a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement. Although the parties disagree as to precisely when the Avangard contract was voided, it is undisputed that the Capitals announced on August 5, 2005 that Ovechkin had agreed to terms. Pet. Ex. C, doc. 2. After the announcement, Dynamo advised the Capitals that it had exclusive rights to Ovechkin's services for the 2005-2006 season and commenced arbitration on October 6, 2005. Dynamo sought an order enjoining Ovechkin from working for the Capitals or any other team until his contract with Dynamo expires on April 30, 2006.

The Arbitration Committee of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation (the "Arbitration Committee") held a hearing on October 20, 2005. Ovechkin did not attend the hearing in person or through counsel, although the Arbitration Committee found he was properly served with the date and location of the hearing and a copy of the claim. An agent for Ovechkin did attend the hearing as an observer only and not as a representative of Ovechkin.

The next day, on October 21, 2005, the Arbitration Committee entered an award in favor of Dynamo. Award, Pet. Ex. A.

Although Ovechkin had not signed a 2005-2006 contract with Dynamo, the Arbitration Committee nevertheless found a valid contract between Dynamo and Ovechkin for the 2005-2006 season based on a combination of: 1) the 2004-2005 contract Ovechkin signed with Dynamo; 2) the April 26, 2005 letter, which it construed as a proper exercise of Dynamo's matching rights; and 3) the Avangard contract. Award, Pet. Ex. A at 5. The Arbitration Committee held:

Dynamo has offered to Ovechkin in a timely manner a new contract with a 30% increase of the total amount of compensation, thus reserving the matching rights with respect to signing the contract with Ovechkin; and Dynamo in a timely manner has agreed to match the financial conditions of the preliminary contract between Avangard and Ovechkin. Thereby, the contract between Dynamo and Ovechkin has come into full force and effect as of July 1, 2005 . . . ."

Award, Pet. Ex. A at 4. As part of the award, the Arbitration Committee enjoined Ovechkin from working for any professional hockey club other than Dynamo until April 30, 2006. Id. Ovechkin, his agents, the Capitals, and the NHL all received notice of the Award.

II. Standard of Review

Ovechkin moves to dismiss this action pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(1), alleging that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Dynamo's claims. A complaint may be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. In our review, this court assumes the truth of the allegations made and construes them favorably to the pleader." Empagran S.A. v. F. Hoffman-LaRoche, Ltd., 315 F.3d 338 (D.C. Cir. 2003). In the Rule 12(b)(1) context, the petitioner bears the burden of ...

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