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Boxer Mikey Garcia's lawsuit to end contract clears legal hurdle

Professional boxing in the U.S. has had a long and storied history -- and so do boxing promoters. In 2000, Congress took notice of promoters' history of widespread abuse and exploitation of fighters and other wrongdoing by passing the federal Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act.

Last year, former WBO super featherweight World Champion Mikey Garcia filed suit against boxing promoter Top Rank, and part of his lawsuit made claims under the Ali Act. Unfortunately for Mikey, that lawsuit has met with procedural blockades at every turn. He filed in a California state court; it was transferred to a federal court in California, which itself transferred the case to another federal court in Nevada. Since the claims under California law were dismissed, Garcia asked for leave to amend his complaint by adding claims under the Nevada boxing regulations. 

Top Rank sought unsuccessfully to block those new claims, making "much of the fact that it has already expended substantial resources litigating the choice of law issues," according to the federal judge in Nevada.

Procedural roadblocks are common enough in lawsuits, frustrating as they are. That said, if you're not a party to the lawsuit, what matters most is what's at stake in the case.

The biggest issue here may be a basic tenet of contract law: mutuality. Basically, standard contract law requires that all parties to the agreement actually understand and agree to its terms, which must be legal. No party has the right to unilaterally alter the agreement.

Garcia has worked with Top Rank since the beginning of his professional career, and his current contract was signed in 2009. Among a number of other claims, he complains that Top Rank exceeded its contractual authority and acted as his unlicensed manager in an attempt "exploit, own and permanently control" his career.

Moreover, Garcia alleges that Top Rank used opportunities for upcoming fights as a chance to illegally extend the period of his contract, ultimately giving itself "the ability to extend the agreement indefinitely, essentially rendering the contracting fighter an indentured servant of Top Rank." In other words, Garcia says the promotional rights agreement expired on Feb. 27, 2014, but Top Rank won't let him go.

In most cases, federal and Florida law require a mutual understanding of the rights and obligations conferred by any contract. If that understanding becomes misaligned, poor drafting or confusing terms can bring about costly litigation.

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