DOVER, Del. -- A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a challenge from the German Tennis Federation to a court decision that cleared the way for the ATP Tour's tournament restructuring.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia affirmed a 2008 federal jury verdict in Delaware rejecting the federation's antitrust claims against the Association of Tennis Professionals.
The federation had claimed the ATP's Brave New World reorganization plan unfairly demoted its Hamburg clay court tournament to second-tier status. The plan moved the Hamburg event from May to July and eliminated it as a key warmup for the French Open.
Attorneys for the federation argued at trial that the ATP was illegally trying to lock up the market for player services and tournament sanctions.
They also claimed the reorganization was the result of collusion among officers for ATP - the governing body for professional men's tennis - and owners of certain favored tournaments acting in their own self-interests.
But jurors ruled unanimously that the ATP did not enter into any contract or conspiracy that might have harmed competition, adding that there was no market that it monopolized or attempted to monopolize.
The German federation and the Qatar Tennis Federation - which owns a stake in the Hamburg tournament - appealed the verdict.
They argued that the trial judge gave an improper instruction allowing the jury to determine that the ATP and its member tournaments constituted a "single entity," and thus could not have entered into a conspiracy or contract with one another to harm competition.
"This decision makes it clear that a sports circuit like the ATP can determine how to structure itself to best satisfy its customers," said Brad Ruskin, an attorney for the association.
Robert MacGill, an attorney for the German federation, declined to say whether it would seek a hearing by the full appeals court or try to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We're evaluating our options," he said.
The appeals panel also affirmed the lower court's dismissal of claims that ATP director Charles Pasarell breached his duty of loyalty and was self-interested in supporting the Brave New World plan.
Even though Pasarell was tournament director and part owner of the Indian Wells Masters Series tournament, the appeals panel said that tournament was doing well financially before Brave New World was adopted. It said he did not obtain any unique benefits from supporting the reorganization.
Pasarell was one six ATP directors against whom the federations had asserted breach of fiduciary duty claims at trial, but the only one whose favorable judgment was challenged on appeal.