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Weil Wins ‘Momentous’ Appellate Victory in Pac-12 Conference Governance Litigation

On December 15, 2023, Weil won a third and final victory before the Supreme Court of Washington State, on behalf of Washington State University and co-plaintiff Oregon State University, in a high-profile dispute regarding the future of the Pac-12 athletic Conference. The court’s ruling ensures that our clients have sole control over the Pac-12 moving forward, following the announced departure of 10 members from the Conference, even as the departing members sought to continue serving on the Conference’s board and influencing its governance and finances.

Following appellate briefing led by Weil, the court denied our adversaries’ motions for discretionary review of a lower court’s order that 1) denied defendants’ motions to dismiss, and 2) granted our clients’ motion to preliminarily enjoin 10 departing member universities of the Conference from continuing to serve on the Conference’s board. This is the third consecutive victory Weil has secured for its clients in this dispute, which press described as a “momentous ruling.”

Weil, along with co-counsel Keker, Van Nest & Peters, commenced this governance litigation against the Pac-12 Conference and its Commissioner, George Kliavkoff. In this fast-tracked case, we won two immense initial rulings before Washington State Superior Court Judge Gary Libey in late 2023:

  1. In September 2023, our clients won a ruling granting their motion for a temporary restraining order that halted a scheduled meeting of the Conference’s board, which would have included the 10 departing members.
  2. Then, in November 2023, ruling from the bench after oral argument, Judge Libey denied motions to dismiss from the Pac-12 Conference and intervening defendant the University of Washington, and granted our clients’ motion to preliminarily enjoin the 10 departing member universities of the Conference from continuing to serve on the Conference’s board.

Two days later, the University of Washington sought an emergency stay of the court’s November ruling pending an appeal. The Supreme Court Commissioner granted the stay and advanced the defendants’ request for discretionary review to the full Supreme Court of Washington. On an expedited basis, Weil led the appellate briefing, along with Keker, on behalf of WSU and OSU. Ruling in a Special En Banc Conference, a majority of the Supreme Court denied defendants’ motions for discretionary review and lifted the Commissioner’s stay, enabling Judge Libey’s preliminary injunction to take effect. The Supreme Court’s ruling empowers WSU and OSU to begin governing the conference immediately, marking a complete victory for our clients.

Over the last year, 10 of the 12 members of the Pac-12 Conference have publicly announced they are leaving the Pac-12 Conference to join competing athletic conferences such as the Big Ten, Big 12, and Atlantic Coast Conference. WSU and OSU are the only members of the Pac-12 Conference that have not announced their departure, and sought judicial intervention to enforce the Conference Bylaws, which provide that members who have delivered a notice of withdrawal from the Conference are automatically removed from the Board of Directors and cease to have a vote on governance matters. The Supreme Court’s ruling marks the final end of this dispute, which resulted in a complete victory for our clients.

A multi-disciplinary Weil team represented WSU on all aspects of the case. Appeals and Strategic Counseling practice Co-Head Greg Silbert and Complex Commercial Litigation partner Arianna Scavetti led the appellate briefing before the Supreme Court of Washington. Arianna led oral arguments on behalf of the plaintiffs in opposition to the defendants’ motions to dismiss before the lower court. The Weil team also included Co-Head of Weil’s Complex Commercial Litigation practice Drew Tulumello, and associates Zach Schreiber, Katie Clemmons, Veronica Craig, and Jacob Altik. Oregon State University was represented by Eric MacMichael, Nicholas Goldberg, and David Silbert of Keker, Van Nest & Peters.