Flood v. Kuhn

PETITIONER: Curtis C. Flood
RESPONDENT: Bowie K. Kuhn, Commissioner of Baseball, et al.
LOCATION: Major League Baseball Commissioner’s Office

DOCKET NO.: 71-32
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 407 US 258 (1972)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1972
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1972
GRANTED: Oct 19, 1971

Arthur J. Goldberg - for petitioner
Louis F. Hoynes Jr. - argued the cause for respondents Feeney et al.
Paul A. Porter - argued the cause for the respondent Kuhn

Facts of the case

Curtis C. Flood was a professional baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals of the National League. Flood was a consistent, above-average hitter and a well-regarded outfielder, playing one full season without an error in 1966, an unusual achievement. Flood played twelve seasons for the Cardinals, participating in three World Series, and was the co-captain of the team between 1965 and 1969.

Despite this, Flood was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in October 1969. The Cardinals did not consult him before the trade, and management only informed him about the trade after it was finalized. Flood complained to the Commissioner of Baseball, Bowie K. Kuhn, requesting that the league make him a free agent. Kuhn denied his request, relying on baseball’s “reserve clause,” which maintained a given team’s rights to a player even after that player’s contract expired. Flood then filed an antitrust suit against Kuhn, the presidents of the two major leagues, and the twenty-four major league clubs. He declined to play for the Phillies in 1970 despite a $100,000 salary offer.

Flood alleged violations of the federal antitrust laws, civil rights laws, state statutes, the common law, and the imposition of a form of peonage and involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment and several federal laws. The trial court granted the defense’s motion for summary judgment, relying on Federal Baseball Club v. National League and Toolson v. New York Yankees, which established a long-standing antitrust exemption for professional baseball clubs. The United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, affirmed.


1. Was professional baseball’s reserve system subject to federal antitrust law?

Was professional baseball subject to state antitrust laws?

Media for Flood v. Kuhn

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 1972 in Flood v. Kuhn

Warren E. Burger:

So first this morning in number 71-32 Curtis C. Flood against Kuhn and others.

Mr. Goldberg.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the court.

The issue in this case is the legality under federal antitrust and state statutory and Commonwealth organized baseballs through reserved system.

To paraphrase Judge Waterman's opinion in the Court of Appeals, this is a scheme which binds every American professional baseball player to one team or it's assignee for life.

And which compels team owners to boycott the player or property of another team owner, and to boycott any fellow owner, and to boycott the player himself and blacklist him, who fails to abide by the agreement among the owners to eliminate competition in recruitment and retention of personnel.

The reach of the reserve system extends beyond the continental United States and even our new states.

Beyond the 24 Major League Clubs which are defendants in this law suit, to 155 Minor League clubs organized in 21 Minor Leagues, to the Mexican League and even to Japan.

An American player boycotted by organized baseball today is boycotted by Japanese employers as well.

Perhaps it maybe helpful to the court, if I having stated the issue now review a few of the pertinent facts.

On October 8, 1969 Curtis C. Flood then a major professional ball player for the St. Louis Cardinals was traded, his contract transferred and assigned to another National League baseball club, the Philadelphia Phillies as part of the multi-player transaction between the two clubs.

As Judge Cooper found in the District Court and I paraphrase him at the time of the trade, he was 22 years old, a veteran of 12 years of service with the Cardinals.

Co-captain of the team by the election of his teammates.

And acknowledged to be a player of exceptional and proven ability.

About that the record is very clear, in his active service with the St. Louis Cardinals, he batted around 300, won several Golden Gloves competition, which is the competition for excellent fielding.

And was regarded to be a great asset for that team, and as evidenced by the fact that he was being paid $90,000 a year.

Not a salary as we know from reading the newspapers that baseball owners throw away very lightly.

The circumstances surrounding his assignment or as Judge Waterman said in the Court of Appeals to use baseball (Inaudible) sale are rather interesting as part of the background of this litigation.

Now perhaps that explains why he chose to use the Courts to vindicate his rights, although he had deep routes in St. Louis Missouri, not only with the ball club which he had served faithfully for 12 years.

He was also an artist who had an artist studio.

He had two photographic studios and franchises else where.

And he had many friends and family in St. Louis.

He was not consulted about the training.

At the contrary he received a form notice and then a telephone call.

The form notice was a very cryptic one.

Record itself does not really display what it actually is, it's a printed form.

And in that printed form, there is a checkbox.

Your contract is renewed, your contract code has been transferred, you have been released from the service.

Perhaps, I would like to suggest Your Honors you might want to look at the exhibits rather than the cold record, to see how this form is filled out.

I should say at all fairness to my distinguished brothers on the opposite side, he also received a telephone call.