Dropping of Little Caesars Arena lawsuit rewards Pistons for their contradictory statements

Plaintiffs who sued the City of Detroit to force a public referendum on additional tax dollars going toward Little Caesars Arena have dropped their lawsuit, giving the Detroit Pistons their desired result despite the team’s double talk to the court and the media.

The Little Caesars Arena lawsuit has been voluntarily withdrawn by the two Detroit citizens who were the plaintiffs, after a federal court refused to grant a temporary restraining order on the city’s use of tax dollars for the stadium project. While the case was decided correctly on its merits, the result is that the Detroit Pistons were rewarded for making statements to the court and the media which contradicted each other.

Two weeks ago, the Pistons filed an affidavit with the federal court ruling on the matter. The Pistons’ position was that the restraining order could not only delay construction on Little Caesars Arena and a nearby practice facility for the Pistons, but ultimately jeopardize the Pistons’ move from Auburn Hills to downtown Detroit. The Pistons stated that approval for the move by the NBA was contingent upon all of the financial details being completed. Without all the particulars finalized, the NBA owners might vote the relocation application down. The Pistons argued that would harm their business interests.

According to Judge Mark A. Goldsmith, who issued the opinion denying the temporary restraining order against the city’s use of over $34 million in tax dollars for the Pistons, the Pistons’ argument that such a delay would harm their business was part of his reason to deny the application. On the seventh page of his opinion, Goldsmith writes:

3.) And the Detroit Pistons’ relocation plans would not merely be delayed if an injunction issues; instead, there is a significant likelihood that the plans would be canceled entirely, causing a ripple effect of lost business revenue in the district for years to come.

It appears that counsel for the Pistons was quite effective at convincing Goldsmith of their case. The statements that the Pistons’ move to Little Caesars Arena hung in the balance stands in stark contradiction to what the Pistons have communicated elsewhere.

According to Katrease Stafford of the Detroit Free Press, the Pistons expressed quite a different sentiment to the management of the facility in which they have played their home games for the past four decades, the Palace at Auburn Hills.

But lead negotiator and Palace Sports and Entertainment Vice Chairman Arn Tellem previously told the Free Press that the Pistons move was nearly a done deal and there was no chance of them returning to the Palace of Auburn Hills. Tellem said previously there was a “zero” chance of the Pistons returning to the Palace. [Lead plaintiff in the lawsuit Robert] Davis said Saturday that he believes [Detroit Pistons CFO Greg] Campbell’s comments are a tactic and directly contradict what Tellem previously said about the move being a done deal. ‘(It’s) totally contrary to Arn Tellem’s comments that he made to the Free Press in which he said it was a done deal,’ Davis said about the new motion. ‘…This is a sad attempt to sway the court because they don’t have a legal argument.’

That was just one part of Goldsmith’s decision to reject the petition for a restraining order. Goldsmith also found the plaintiffs’ argument that their rights to vote were being infringed wanting, which was the real crux of their argument. Because of the court’s perceived weakness of that argument, it made sense for Davis and his fellow plaintiff, city clerk candidate D. Etta Wilcoxon, to drop the lawsuit.

Davis has stated that he will attempt another lawsuit to force a referendum on the matter, but at this point, whether or not that would be actionable in time to prevent the use of the tax funds for the Pistons’ purposes without the approval of the city’s voters is in doubt. Little Caesars Arena is set to open this fall, and the Pistons are currently planning on playing there next season. A potential lawsuit victory could force the city and the Pistons to reimburse the tax funds used, but halting the current projects until a referendum can be held looks like a long shot now.

While Goldsmith’s decision against granting the restraining order was the correct decision on the case’s overall merits, the effect is that the Pistons successfully manipulated the situation by selling a very different narrative on the situation to the court than the one they had told the media.