Last month just days before America’s biggest sporting event of the year, former NFL wide receiver Michael Irvin was pulled from his NFL Network coverage of Super Bowl 57. Irvin lost not only his scheduled appearance alongside Stephen A. Smith on the hit ESPN show “First Take,” but many paid personal appearances in the Phoenix area during Super Bowl week as well according to his initial complaint. The news of the Hall of Famer’s absence was initially broken by Alex Riethmiller, NFL Network’s vice president of communications.
The basis for Irvin’s suspension from his NFL Network duties was a complaint of misconduct by a female employee at the Phoenix Downtown Hotel, a Marriott Hotel property, a week prior to Super Bowl 57. While the exact details of the interaction and the woman’s complaint are still unknown at this time, Irvin has vehemently denied any misconduct on his part and believes he is just another victim of “cancel culture.”
According to Irvin’s $100 million lawsuit against Marriott International and the unnamed employee, a witness who observed the interaction between Irvin and the anonymous employee stated that:
“It was a positive, friendly conversation. They had a brief interaction, it was 30, 40 seconds, he kept his distance at all times, stood about a meter away from her, they ended with a handshake, and he literally turned around and went to the lift.”
While Irvin’s original complaint was filed in Collin County, Texas, court, Marriott quickly sought to remove the defamation suit from Texas state court to Texas federal court, stating that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas has diversity jurisdiction. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, for diversity jurisdiction to exist the amount in controversy must equal or exceed $75,000 and that the parties must be citizens of different states. Since Irvin is suing Marriott for $100 million in damages and is a Texas resident while Marriott International is incorporated in Delaware with their principal place of business in Maryland, the requirements of federal diversity jurisdiction were met and the case was moved into federal court.
On the same day that Marriott filed their notice of removal to federal court, a Collin County court judge granted Irvin’s motion for expedited discovery and set a short deadline for Marriott to turn over the video footage of Irvin’s alleged interaction with the Phoenix hotel employee. While this would have seemed to allow Irvin and his legal counsel to know the exact details of the alleged misconduct, the state court’s order was essentially nullified by the lawsuit’s removal to federal court.
Undeterred, Irvin filed an additional motion for expedited discovery, this time with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Once again, Irvin claimed that he still does not know the “who, what, when or where of the allegations” levied against him and has been repeatedly denied a copy of the “very footage” that would show the alleged misconduct, which Marriott and the anonymous employee quickly handed over to the NFL Network following the initial accusations. Marriott responded with their own motion in opposition to Irvin’s request for expedited discovery and claimed that Irvin had not shown “good cause” for the discovery of the video footage, and that he identified no legitimate reason for why discovery should not proceed along the normal course of events.
Shortly after Irvin filed his second motion for expedited discovery in this lawsuit, Marriott filed a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction or, in the alternative, to transfer venue. According to Marriott’s motion, Irvin cannot prove any of the necessary elements for personal jurisdiction in Texas. In order for the Texas federal court to have personal jurisdiction, they must either have general or specific jurisdiction over Marriott. Here, the Texas federal court does not have general jurisdiction over Marriott International because it is not incorporated in Texas, nor does it have its principal place of business in Texas, and the court does not have specific jurisdiction over Marriott International because none of the facts and circumstances that Irvin alleged in his complaint occurred in the state of Texas. The events at the crux of Irvin’s suit took place entirely in Phoenix, Arizona. In the alternative, Marriott asked that if the court is to decline to dismiss the suit entirely, that it at least transfer the case to Arizona, the state where the alleged events took place.
Only a few days after Marriott filed their motion to dismiss or transfer venue, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas granted Irvin’s motion for expedited discovery. The judge found that Irvin was able to sufficiently establish ongoing reputational and economic harms that could be impacted by expedited discovery. The judge further stated that “The discovery that [Irvin] seeks is narrow and unlikely to be particularly burdensome on Marriott,” since “[Irvin’s] request is limited to surveillance footage and written reports, all of which likely exist in a readily accessible format.”
In response to this, Marriott had asked the court to decline to rule on any motion from Irvin until it resolves the threshold jurisdictional issues they had previously raised. However, the judge made it clear that a pending motion to dismiss or transfer “does not give a party a license to refuse to participate in discovery.”
The court said Marriott must produce the video by this upcoming Tuesday.
While the ultimate outcome of this case is still uncertain at this time, what is certain is that the production of the sought-after video footage will be instrumental in determining whether or not Michael Irvin actually engaged in any of the alleged wrongful conduct.