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Citi Field Ballpark Beef Ends With Kosher Vendor Striking Out

One of the Mets’ most recent noteworthy victories was not on the field but rather in the courtroom.

Unfortunately, as our New York City restaurant attorneys understand, it came at a major league loss to a kosher foods vendor, which had sued the stadium owners and organizers for a significant hit to profits.

It started back in 2008. That’s when Kosher Sports Inc. signed off on a decade-long, $725,000 deal to sell glatt kosher hot dogs, knishes, sausages, peanuts and pretzels at home games for the Mets.

Then in 2010, the vendor sued the ballpark in Brooklyn federal court, Kosher Sports, Inc. v. Queens Ballpark Company LLC, alleging breach of contract. According to the lawsuit, the ballpark refused to allow the vendor to sell its kosher products on Fridays and Saturday nights. It informed the vendor of this before the 2009 season, about a year after the contract was originally drawn up.

This was critical blow for the vendor because according to Jewish tradition, this is the holy period of Shabbat, and this is when they would expect the demand for kosher products to be especially high. Of course this ignores the fact that, most hasgachas (which literally translates from Hebrew to mean supervision but generally means the an authority that supervises the kashrut of someone selling kosher products) will not certify a meat establishment that prepares and sells food on Shabbat. Footnote1

Needless to say, by restricting its sales during this time, the ballpark was effectively causing the vendor to lose a great deal of money. Not only would it be losing in sales, but it was also  unable to recoup the substantial amount spent to have their products approved by kosher-certifying authorities, as well as the money spent to ensure their cart met rabbinical requirements that would allow them to sell such items on the Sabbath.

Plus, the vendor claimed, the ballpark had failed to find them a suitable location for a fourth vending cart brought into service.

The ballpark in turn filed a $55,000 counterclaim for breach of contract, as the vendor had failed to pay the park during the time while the issue was being litigated.

Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld an earlier ruling by the lower district court, dismissing the vendor’s motion for a summary judgment and granting the ballpark’s summary judgment motion and $55,000 counter-claim.

So what went wrong for this vendor?

Ultimately, it came down to a shoddy contract. The court went so far as to call the contract “ambiguous.”

In the end, however, the court found that the contract didn’t give the vendor the right to sell its products on Friday and Saturday nights. Yes, the company had a right to sell products at home games, but there was nothing in the contract that stated exactly when and where those products could be sold.

What the contract allows is advertising rights, tickets to give out for charity and freedom from competition. What the contract does not guarantee is the right to sell its products at the field on Fridays and Saturdays.

There is nothing in the agreement that mentions that the carts have to be positioned at mutually agreed-upon locations. The vendor attempted to present evidence showing an e-mail between ballpark administrators and the vendor, saying that the locations of the carts would be mutually agreed-upon. But the court found that those e-mails, which weren’t signed, didn’t amount to a binding contract.

The vendor reportedly spent a great deal of funds on legal fees to fight the ballpark’s restrictions. However, had it paid even a portion of that money upfront to ensure that the initial contract would sufficiently cover its rights, the company might be in a better position today.

Footnote1 There are hashgachas that will certify a non-meat kosher establishment, especially a vegan or vegetarian restaurant.  Some halachic (ie Jewish Law) authorities permit eating at a place with such a hasgachas while others do not.

The Wright Law Firm is a business law firm located in Midtown Manhattan. Call (212) 619-1500 for a confidential consultation.

Additional Resources:

Judge Rules Mets’ Way, on Kosher Hot Dog Suit, Feb. 21, 2013, By Richard Sandomir, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

NYC Restaurant Sales Bolstered by Mall Locations, June 4, 2013, New York City Restaurant Lawyer Blog

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