Attorneys for a group of caddies made what could be a final stand on Thursday, arguing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that a lower court ruling to dismiss the group’s lawsuit against the PGA Tour was flawed.
A three-judge panel will now decide whether U.S. District judge Vince Chhabria erred when he dismissed the lawsuit in February 2016. The suit was filed by a group of more than 80 caddies claiming, among other things, that the Tour uses them as “walking billboards” for sponsors.
Arthur Miller and Benjamin Major both argued for the caddies that the Tour’s motion for dismissal should have been converted into a motion for summary judgment, which would have allowed for discovery in what is essentially an anti-trust claim.
Central to the caddie’s argument are the bibs caddies wear during tournament rounds, which they claim prevents them from seeking their own sponsorship opportunities.
“The very premise of this case is that the caddies have some sort of fundamental right to participate in PGA Tour events on terms and conditions of their own choosing,” argued Jeffery Mishkin, an attorney for the Tour. “They do not have that fundamental right. The caddies did not create these events, the PGA Tour, as the creator, promoter and organizer of the event, has the right to establish the terms and conditions of participation.
“The contracts require that the caddies wear a uniform prescribed by the PGA Tour and the host organization.”
Attorneys for the caddies, however, pointed out that the word “bib” is never mentioned in what the Tour says is its contract with caddies, which is a form they’re required to sign before each event.
“The uncertainties and the ambiguities were created by the Tour. They drafted the agreement. They say the bib is the uniform, yet they don’t use the word bib in the contract. They include the uniform provision but then they prescribe a dress code,” Major argued. “They have only relied on tradition, that’s the way it’s only been and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
At least one judge on the Ninth Circuit panel, Stephen Reinhardt, seemed to agree with the caddies.
“All the details here about what a caddie should wear [certain color shorts, shoes, etc.], and you fail to mention that [bibs], may make the contract ambiguous,” Reinhardt said. “You want the caddie to do this, but not the players. It seems odd. It seems people would be influenced more by the players [wearing a bib with tournament advertisements on it].”
The Tour’s policy is to not comment on ongoing litigation.
The panel did not give any indication when they may rule on the caddie’s motion.