Terence Crawford has pulled ahead on the scorecards in his ongoing legal battle with Top Rank.
The unbeaten three-division champion and pound-for-pound entrant scored a minor victory when a Nevada District Court judge granted Crawford’s motion to remand his lawsuit against Top Rank back to state court. The ruling was handed down Tuesday in the U.S. District Court, District of Nevada in Clark County, overturning a previous ruling to remove the complaint to Federal court.
As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, Crawford filed a six-count, multimillion-dollar complaint against the Nevada-headquartered Top Rank with the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County, Nevada on January 12. The case alleges two separate counts of Breach of Contract, along with one count each of Fraudulent Misrepresentation (specifying Top Rank’s failure to deliver a fight with Errol Spence and the manner in which it was promised), Negligent Misrepresentation, Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing and Tortious Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith as committed by Top Rank founder/CEO Bob Arum as well as company president Todd duBoef, Arum’s stepson.
Crawford (38-0, 29KOs)—a promotional free agent who currently hold the WBO welterweight title—seeks upwards of $10,000,000 in compensation, including specific amounts of $4,500,000 under the first breach of contract claim. Also sought is an alleged unpaid $900,000 bonus as specified in the second breach of contract claim, in reference to Top Rank’s alleged failure to deliver a unification bout with Errol Spence (28-0, 22KOs).
Arum claimed to have learned of the case when it was leaked to the New York Post, who contacted the Hall of Fame promoter seeking comment. The Post’s angle was more in reference to the repeated claims in the 23-page complaint of racial bias levied against Crawford by Top Rank. His attorneys— Bryan Freedman and Hector Carbajal II— extensive allegations of racial bias against Crawford, an African-American boxer and “disparate treatment of Black boxers, including those very same Black boxers that Top Rank is contractually obligated to promote.
“Because this is boxing, a sport with a checkered history, and because Arum is now dismissed as just a grumpy old white man, Arum continues to make racist and bigoted statements and purposefully damage the reputations of Black boxers without any consequences. This is generally because the affected boxers, who are in long-term contracts with Top Rank, fear that if they speak up, they will be placed on the sideline and not given the opportunity to fight during the life of their deal, which could be 5 to 7 years.”
While the claims of racial bias were specified throughout the Introduction and Allegations Common to All Causes of Action, none were actually listed in or officially associated with any of the six counts filed against Top Rank.
Top Rank then filed a motion to remove the case to federal court on January 15, three days after the initial filing and by which point the promotional still hadn’t been served. The process was deemed by Crawford’s legal team as ‘gamesmanship’ and known through the legal system as ‘snap removal,’ a practice where the defendant files to move the case before being served.
Tuesday’s ruling suggests that Crawford has the upper hand in this argument.
“Top Rank, Inc. removed this case to this court before it was served with process,” U.S. District Judge Andrew P. Gordon noted in his ruling. “Plaintiff Terence Crawford moves to remand the case to state court, claiming that removal is barred by the forum defendant rule found in 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)(2).
“Crawford is correct, so I grant the motion and remand the case.”
The code cited by judge Gordon covers Removal of Civil Actions Based on Diversity of Citizenship. Top Rank is the sole defendant in the case and based out of Nevada. Therefore, the court ruled that the case belongs in state court, recognizing Top Rank as the forum defendant in this matter.
Top Rank sought to instead have the case heard in federal court, a common practice by defendants in a civil complaint since state court-heard cases tend to have less wait time before advancing the trial. Federal court also carries stricter rules and would have likely resulted in a more expensive legal battle for Crawford.
“Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,” stated judge Gordon. “It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction. This burden on a removing defendant is especially heavy because the removal statute is strictly construed, and any doubt about the right of removal requires resolution in favor of remand.
“Federal jurisdiction must be rejected if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance.”
Top Rank’s legal team initially argued that it was in the right to have the case removed to federal court, claiming that the forum defendant rule didn’t apply “because it had yet not been “properly joined and served” at the time of removal, as required by the statute.”
Crawford’s legal team successfully countered that such practice and logic contradict the reasons for the code to exist in the first place.
The ruling noted the inconsistencies and ambiguity in determining a firm answer based on the language of the code. Ultimately, the court saw fit to return the case to where it was originally filed.
“The purposes underlying § 1441(b)(2) are better served by disallowing removal before any defendant is served,” Gordon ruled. “The plaintiff can preserve its ability to remain in state court by serving the forum defendant first and without delay. A non-forum defendant may still argue that the forum defendant is a sham who should be disregarded for purposes of removal. And this interpretation is consistent with § 1441(b)(2)’s plain language. Here, there is more than considerable doubt as to Top Rank’s right to remove, so federal jurisdiction must be rejected.
“Top Rank is a forum defendant, and its removal was premature because it had not yet been served and only three days elapsed between filing the complaint and removal. I thus must remand the case to state court.”
The lone setback endured by Crawford in his recent filing was the court rejecting his request for attorneys’ fees. While the court agreed in his reasoning to have it returned to state court, his legal team could provide sufficient proof of impropriety on the part of Top Rank as it relates to the snap removal.
Crawford has not fought since scoring a tenth-round knockout win over Shawn Porter last November 20 at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas. The win marked the final bout of a three-year contract extension between Crawford and Top Rank predating his October 2018 12th round knockout of then-unbeaten Jose Benavidez Jr. The switch-hitter from Omaha, Nebraska earned $21,800,000 in guaranteed purses in five fights, plus an additional $245,000 in training camp expenses under the 2018 Extension according to court records.
The 2018 Extension called for two fights per contract year, which Crawford’s team alleges he was denied in the second year of the agreement which would run from October 13, 2019-October 12, 2020. With the argument stems the claim that he is owed a minimum of $4,500,000 for the missed fight.
The complaint omits the three-month period where no stateside promoter ran boxing events due to the global pandemic. Also not included in the complaint was Crawford’s own on-the-record claim that he would need to be better compensated beyond his contracted guarantee if he were to fight without fans in attendance.
“[I]f it was to happen, then they have to pay me more,” Crawford noted during an April 2020 interview on the Sports Illustrated boxing podcast. “You know, they have to pay me more because fighters of my status and on my level, we get paid for the people that’s coming there as well. So… if I can’t get paid off of people coming, then I’m gonna have to get paid up front.
“[Y]ou gotta pay us fighters because… we’re taking a big risk and [a] health risk at the same time. You know, you can’t play boxing. You know, one false move and you can be six feet [deep].”
As a result, Crawford fought just once during the second contract year, a ninth-round stoppage of Egidijus Kavaliauskas in December 2019 for the second defense of his WBO welterweight title. Crawford earned $4,800,000 for the ESPN-televised main event, slightly above the five-fight average guaranteed purse during the 2018 Extension.
“His average compensation under the 2018 Agreement was approximately $4,500,000 per bout,” argued Freeman. “Thus, Top Rank owes Crawford no less than $4,500,000 for its breach of the 2018 Agreement by failing to provide Crawford with a second fight during the second year of the 2018 Agreement.”
Additionally, Crawford seeks compensation for Top Rank’s failure to deliver a fight with Spence during that same period.
According to the complaint, both parties “entered into a “Championship Bout Agreement” for a twelve-round bout for Crawford to defend his WBO Welterweight Championship belt against Egidijus Kavaliauskas” on October 11, 2019. “During the negotiations in or about October 2019, Crawford and his negotiating team informed Arum and DuBoeuf [sic] that he would not take the fight for the $4 million being offered to him. Arum and DuBoeuf informed Crawford that he should take the offer because a fight with Errol Spence Jr. (“Spence”) was right around the corner and that Top Rank could quickly make a Spence-Crawford fight happen.
“In fact, Arum and DeBoeuf said Top Rank would include a “Spence bonus” in the 2019 Kavaliauskas Bout Agreement in excess of nine hundred thousand dollars ($900,000) (the “Arum and DuBoeuf Spence Representations”) because they were confident they could make a fight with Crawford and Spence before the end of 2020.”
The suggestion and timing is dubious, considering Spence suffered extensive injuries in a horrific single car crash in October 2019.
Ironically, the lawsuit remains active as there exists the strong possibility of Spence and Crawford finally colliding in what would be for the undisputed welterweight championship. Crawford has largely remained out of the media and cryptic even when going on the record to discuss such a fight.
Spence helped sweeten the pot by adding the WBA title to his collection in a tenth-round, injury stoppage of Yordenis Ugas this past April 16 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Spence, who hails from nearby Desoto, Texas, successfully defended his WBC and IBF titles in the process.
Spence won the IBF belt in an eleventh-round knockout of Kell Brook in May 2017. He claimed the WBC strap in a twelve-round, split decision win over Porter in their September 2019 unification match. The win over Ugas marked his sixth overall successful title defense.
Crawford previously held the WBO and lineal lightweight championship and the undisputed junior welterweight championship before moving up to welterweight. He became a three-division titlist on his first try, running through unbeaten Jeff Horn in a ninth-round stoppage to claim the WBO welterweight title in June 2018. Crawford has yet to go the distance in six straight fights at welterweight.
The ongoing lawsuit is not expected to hold up Crawford’s in-ring availability, as both he and Top Rank have openly agreed that their deal expired with the Porter fight last November.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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