WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court overturned former baseball player Steve Garvey's $3 million labor settlement Monday, ruling that a lower court usurped the role of an outside arbitrator by awarding Garvey the money.
The court ruled 8-1 in favor of the baseball players' union, which had argued that giving Garvey the money would upset a careful system for handing out labor settlements based on an arbitrator's findings.
Garvey, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, was trying to collect a share of a $280 million settlement that baseball owners agreed to pay in 1990 after arbitrators ruled they had worked together to hold down free-agent players' salaries.
The agreement provided that the Major League Baseball Players Association would distribute the settlement among the players after arbitrators determined who was entitled to shares of the money.
Garvey, a 10-time All-Star first baseman who retired before the 1988 season, filed a claim for $3 million. He said the Padres had offered to extend his contract through the 1988 and 1989 seasons but withdrew the offer because of the collusion with other team owners.
The Supreme Court's action was the culmination of a complicated path of court rulings that began when an arbitrator ruled against Garvey and he sued in federal court.
The court majority, in an unsigned opinion, said courts have only limited power to review the decision of arbitrators, and that Garvey's case did not meet the test.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg voted with the majority to overturn the decision of the lower 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but filed her own, one-paragraph opinion to say so.
The court acted without receiving the usual volume of paperwork for an appeal, and without hearing oral arguments.
The majority decision, a victory for the players association, sends the case back for more arbitration.
"That conclusion is not compelled by any," previous, related cases, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in dissent.
Stevens said before the majority acted, it should have heard more fully from both sides. He said he does not know how he would have voted after that more detailed examination.
"I find the court's willingness to reverse a factbound determination of the court of appeals without engaging that court's reasoning a troubling departure from our normal practice," Stevens wrote.
The appeals court had found in February 2000 that the arbitrator was wrong to rule against Garvey.
A federal judge then ordered the case returned to arbitrators for a new hearing, and Garvey appealed again.
Last December, the 9th Circuit Court said the case should not be sent back for a new arbitration hearing. The appeals court said that under its February 2000 ruling the only possible result was an award in Garvey's favor, and therefore it ordered the case returned to arbitrators to enter an award for Garvey.
In it's appeal to the Supreme Court, the union argued that the appeals court overstepped its authority. Courts are not supposed to decide such cases themselves, but instead should send them back for a new arbitration hearing, the lawyers said.
The baseball commissioner's office sided with the union, while Garvey's lawyers had urged the justices not to take the case.
The Supreme Court has been mulling the Garvey case for months. The justices repeatedly postponed making an announcement of whether they would hear the case, and last month stepped in to block Garvey from getting the money as scheduled on April 30.
The case is Major League Baseball Players Association v. Garvey, 00-1210.