LIV Golf picked up a rare win in its antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.
Last month Judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled in the U.S. Northern District of California court that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund – the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund – as well as its governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan were both subject to discovery and depositions in the United States, a major blow to LIV’s legal team.
LIV’s lawyers then appealed the decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in order to further delay the discovery process. On Wednesday, Judge Freeman granted the PIF and Al-Rumayyan’s motion for a stay of discovery pending the appeal, a decision that could take 1-2 years according to Jodi Balsam, a professor at Brooklyn Law School and former counsel for the NFL.
The Tour felt it was unfair that it was forced to continue complying with discovery while the PIF and Al-Rumayyan were able to kick the issue down the road, and argued LIV lawyers could benefit from “gamesmanship.”
Judge Freeman disagreed and denied the PGA Tour’s cross-motion for a stay of all discovery.
“Memories fade, and documents may disappear over time. Thus, a full halt of discovery would harm the litigation process,” the court filing read. Judge Freeman also called the Tour’s gamesmanship claim “unconvincing.”
The original lawsuit was filed in August of 2022 by Phil Mickelson and went on to include 10 other players, but has since been taken over by LIV Golf, which is almost exclusively financed by the PIF. The wealth fund, organized in 1971 as a means for the Saudi Arabian government to invest in various projects and companies, has been estimated to be worth over $650 billion.
The Tour then filed a countersuit against LIV. In February, the court ruled the Tour could add the PIF and Al-Rumayyan as defendants in its countersuit, dragging the financiers deeper into the judicial weeds.
So, what comes next? Antitrust cases involve not just investigating a company, but rather an entire industry. For that reason, the discovery process can be voluminous and exhausting, and the case – currently set for a Jan. 8, 2024 trial date – is still early in the discovery phase. The Tour has argued for a November 12, 2024 trial date, while LIV has made a case for May 17, 2024.
If they lose their appeal, PIF and Al-Rumayyan could comply and provide depositions and documents, though LIV lawyers have previously claimed that taking part in depositions would violate Saudi Arabian law. If they were to comply, the ramifications could have adverse effects on the PIF’s other investments in the States. Does Al-Rumayyan want to answer questions about the PIF’s motives given that LIV Golf has long been criticized as a way for Saudi Arabia to sportswash its human rights record? It’s unlikely.
They could also refuse to comply by not submitting documents or failing to meet deadlines, but that opens the door for the court to issue a ruling of contempt, which may lead to sanctions and fines that could totally upend LIV’s case.
A decision has yet to be made on revised trial deadlines just yet, but previous comments in filings state that if the discovery process is delayed, the case may be, too. Until then, we continue to wait.