Charles Oakley will get his chance to sue MSG, and possibly Executive Chairman and CEO James Dolan, over the former Knick’s 2017 ejection from the arena after a federal appeals court panel overturned the case being dismissed by a district judge in 2021. Here’s what you need to know:
- This is the second time the appeals court has reinstated the lawsuit, which alleges MSG security used unnecessary force to eject Oakley from the game on Feb. 8, 2017.
- The panel’s decision does not conclude that Oakley is right, only that he should be given the opportunity to argue the case in front of a jury.
- The panel also gave Oakley the green light to seek to amend its complaint and add Dolan, who would have ordered the eviction, as a defendant.
The trial court judge had ruled in 2021 that after seeing video footage of the incident, no one could infer that unreasonable force was used to eject Oakley. But the three-judge appeals court panel, which heard oral argument in the case last month, disagreed and ruled more discovery was needed and a jury should decide.
“In this case, the video recording alone of Oakley’s initial encounter with the security guards does not compel the conclusion that Oakley was given a reasonable opportunity to leave the garden and that any force used by the guards during this first meeting was reasonable,” the three judges wrote. “Given the significant disputes over whether and when security guards pushed Oakley, we cannot conclude as a matter of law that no reasonable jury could find that the defendants gave Oakley a reasonable opportunity to leave, and then only used reasonable force.”
MSG under New York law had the right to evict Oakley, the main question being whether security guards used unnecessary force. Lower court judge Richard Sullivan ruled on available video footage Oakley clearly fell on his own without being pushed by security guards. But the appeals panel agreed with Oakley that the video Sullivan cited did not capture the entire encounter, and that more discovery was needed to unearth audio and potential witness evidence.
“We are obviously pleased with the Second Circuit’s decision and look forward to holding MSG and Dolan accountable for their actions,” Oakley attorney Douglas Wigdor wrote in an email.
MSG could not immediately be reached for comment. MSG could appeal the decision to the full Second Circuit, a process known as an en banc appeal.
Dolan’s alleged order for Oakley’s ejection from the Garden came after the former power forward was a vocal critic for some time in the owner’s tenure. After the ejection, MSG released a statement saying he hoped Oakley would get the help he needed.
Oakley sued, including for defamation, and Judge Sullivan dismissed all allegations. In 2020, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reinstated the assault claims. The following year, Judge Sullivan dismissed these remaining claims and ruled that Oakley’s motion to add Dolan as a defendant was moot.
Now the case – nearly five and a half years after the eviction – appears to be headed back to Judge Sullivan’s court.
(Picture: Ron Jenkins/Getty)