Originally published July 2, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 2, 2009 at 12:13 AM

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Judge gives suit by Sonics fans class-action status

Breach-of-contract suit could cost Clay Bennett's ownership group as much as $7 million if it loses

Seattle Times staff reporter


Federal Judge Richard Jones certified a class-action lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of three former Sonics season-ticket holders who are claiming the team breached a contract when it moved to Oklahoma City and didn't allow them to repurchase tickets.

Jones' 19-page order was expected, but it may still be a significant blow to Clay Bennett's ownership group, the Professional Basketball Club, which would be liable to pay as much as $7 million in damages if it loses.

The Seattle-based U.S. District Court judge will let a jury decide if roughly 1,200 Emerald Club members who renewed season tickets in 2007-08 at KeyArena on the promise of a three-year fixed price are entitled to damages because the team moved to Oklahoma City and the ownership group didn't allow them to renew tickets at the Ford Center at the same price the following two years.

Attorney Tom Baisch, who represents the class-action members, said the lawsuit is unique because of the extraordinary factors.

"There's not been any other case where the ownership group offered three years of guaranteed price certainty," Baisch said.

For example, if a Sonics fan purchased a $150 ticket at KeyArena, that fan should have been able to buy the same ticket at the Ford Center. An equivalent seat there may have been valued at $250 because Bennett promised a price and priority-seating guarantee through the 2009-10 season.

The fans group argues it was denied the chance of reselling the ticket for a $100 profit and $4,100 per season.

"Of course, that's the highest-end seats and there's other seats where the breakdown is less or you might have a $40 seat that's now $50," Baisch said. "Our economist has been to Oklahoma City and he's been to [KeyArena] and he has a breakdown on each price point and location."

PBC lawyers claim tickets are revocable if events are canceled and there's no financial injury suffered by the plaintiffs because no money was paid beyond the final season.

"PBC and we as its lawyers are confident that when this case is presented in a jury that the result will be the ticket holders got everything they bargained for and that none of the plaintiffs are entitled to any further recovery," said PBC attorney Brad Keller said.

In February, Jones dismissed a part of a lawsuit originally filed by former season-ticket holders Robert Brotherson, Patrick Sheehy and Carolyn Bechtel.

The judge rejected the fans' claim for a full refund for the 2007-08 season in Seattle and denied a plaintiffs' claim that they wanted to purchase tickets to attend games in Oklahoma City.

"There's a large number of issues concerning whether people would have renewed, whether they waived their rights to renew and whether they had any expectation of profiting had they renewed," Keller said. "We're confident they'll be decided in a way that denies the class any recovery."

The fans' group must now redefine the plaintiffs that are members of the class action. Baisch has been instructed to draft a notice before Aug. 7 that will be approved by the court and PBC before being mailed to the Emerald Club members asking whether they want to be a part of the class-action suit or opt out.

Once the class-action members are determined a trial date will be scheduled, most likely to start in early 2010.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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