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Former College Athletes Say Atlanta Suit Could Scuttle Their National Video Game Settlement

They say Suit threatens a $40M settlement in California class action on video game claims

, Daily Report

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A scene from Electronic Arts’ video game NCAA Football14. The NCAA is suing EA and Atlanta-based Collegiate Licensing Co. in Fulton Superior Court.
A scene from Electronic Arts’ video game NCAA Football14. The NCAA is suing EA and Atlanta-based Collegiate Licensing Co. in Fulton Superior Court.

Lawyers representing thousands of former college athletes waiting for a federal court in California to approve a settlement worth a reported $40 million have accused the National Collegiate Athletic Association of trying to scuttle the deal by bringing a separate suit in Atlanta.

The deal on the table would resolve the athletes' claims that a video game maker and an Atlanta-based licensing company reaped hundreds of millions of dollars by using the likenesses of college players without compensating them.

The proposed settlement between the players and the games manufacturer, Electronic Arts Inc. (EA), and Collegiate Licensing Co. (CLC) would end more than four years of litigation. The NCAA is a co-defendant in the case, but it is not a party to the settlement.

In November, the NCAA sued EA and CLC in Fulton County Superior Court, claiming they violated contractual obligations to indemnify the NCAA against any legal claims it might face from its role in licensing the video games.

Represented by Leah Ward Sears, the former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, and her associate at Schiff Hardin, Samuel Almon, the NCAA said its co-defendants engaged in "self dealing" by working out a settlement while refusing to divulge any details to the NCAA.

On Dec. 24, W. Pitts Carr and Alex Weatherby of Atlanta's W. Pitts Carr & Associates and Michael Hausfeld of Washington—one of the lead lawyers representing the class of athletes in the California suit—filed an amicus petition in the Atlanta litigation on behalf of the plaintiff athletes. They challenged the NCAA's assertions and questioned its motives in bringing its suit.

"The NCAA is explicit about its intent to derail the settlement process," the petition said. "The NCAA's Complaint goes so far as to request that the Court enter an injunction prohibiting [Electronic Arts and Collegiate Licensing] from petitioning the California Court to approve the settlement agreement."

"Rather than addressing its opposition to the settlement in the California Litigation," the petition said, "the NCAA elected to come 2,000 miles and file this action in order to disrupt the settlement proceedings. In doing so, the NCAA has neglected to inform this Court of key evidence made public in the California Litigation. The Class Plaintiffs file this petition for Amicus Curiae in order to provide the Court with crucial information that contradicts the NCAA's claims."

In an interview, Carr termed the NCAA's decision to file suit in Atlanta "bizarre," given that the underlying litigation has been unfolding in California since May 2009.

"Why not file a cross-claim [in California]?" he asked. "We're very puzzled."

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