Citi Field Ballpark Beef Ends With Kosher Vendor Striking Out

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

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 kosher 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 initially drawn up.

This was a critical blow for the vendor because, according to Jewish tradition, this is the holy period of Shabbat. This is when they expect the demand for kosher products to be especially high. Of course, this ignores that most hasgachas (which translates from Hebrew to mean supervision but generally means 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

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 sales, but it was also unable to recoup the substantial amount spent to have its products approved by kosher-certifying authorities and the money paid to ensure its 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 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 counterclaim.

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 nothing in the contract stated precisely when and where those products could be sold.

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

Nothing in the agreement 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 weren’t signed and didn’t amount to a binding contract.

The vendor reportedly spent many legal fees to fight the ballpark’s restrictions. However, the company might be in a better position today if it paid even a portion of that money upfront to ensure that the initial contract sufficiently covers its rights.

Footnote1 some hasgachas will certify a non-meat kosher establishment, especially a vegan or vegetarian restaurant. Some halachic (i.e., 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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