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Judge dismisses most of San Jose lawsuit over Oakland A's move

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. judge dismissed on Friday several claims in the city of San Jose, California's lawsuit against Major League Baseball, which alleged the league violated antitrust laws over a proposed move by the Oakland Athletics team to San Jose.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte said San Jose could move forward with claims that MLB interfered with an option agreement between the city and the A's on land for a new stadium.

Phil Gregory, an attorney representing the city, called the ruling a "big victory" because San Jose could still pursue damages worth billions of dollars.

However, because of Whyte's antitrust dismissal, an effort by the city to obtain a court order to allow an A's move to San Jose could no longer be pursued, he said.

Gregory said the city has not decided whether to immediately appeal that part of Whyte's ruling.

John Keker, who represents the league, said he is "confident" that the remaining interference claim would eventually be dismissed as well.

Whyte's decision came a day after the club's 2013 season ended at the hands of the Detroit Tigers.

The Oakland A's have struggled for years with weak ticket sales in the Oakland Coliseum, which the A's share with the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League.

The A's ownership wants to move from the aging arena to a city with the political commitment for a new ballpark that will help build a bigger fan base.

San Jose, the biggest city in affluent Silicon Valley, has longed for an MLB franchise for years. The city has offered the A's land for a baseball park, while also pressing the league to have owners of the other teams vote to allow the A's to move.

A major obstacle to that plan has been the San Francisco Giants, which has attempted to prevent the A's move by arguing that the Giants hold territorial rights to San Jose, according to the lawsuit.

Tired of waiting for a vote, San Jose sued MLB and league Commissioner Bud Selig in June, charging their "illegal and collusive actions thwarted Plaintiffs' diligent efforts to procure a major league baseball team for Silicon Valley."

In his ruling on Friday, Whyte wrote that baseball's longstanding antitrust exemption applies to issues like the proposed Oakland A's move, so the city's antitrust claims must be dismissed.

"The exemption is an 'aberration' that makes little sense given the heavily interstate nature of the 'business of baseball," Whyte wrote. "Despite this recognition, the court is still bound by the Supreme Court's holdings."

The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is City of San Jose et al. vs. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and Allan Huber "Bud" Selig, 13-2787.

(Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Eric Beech)

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