NEW YORK, N.Y. – A federal judge has dismissed Charles Oakley's lawsuit against executive chairman James Dolan and Madison Square Garden, stemming from the former New York Knicks forward's ejection from a game and ensuing arrest three years ago.
Judge Richard J. Sullivan ruled Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that the case “had the feel of a public relations campaign” and Oakley hadn't alleged a plausible legal claim under federal pleading standards.
Oakley had alleged assault, battery and false imprisonment, along with defamation after Dolan and the Knicks implied he had a problem with alcohol.
The Knicks responded to the ruling by saying they hoped for a better relationship with Oakley, a popular player who spent a decade with the franchise but has been critical of the team under Dolan.
“This was an incident that no one was happy about. Maybe now there can be peace between us,” MSG said in a statement.
But Oakley doesn't seem ready for that quite yet.
“Charles is not one to give up,” said his attorney, Douglas Wigdor. “While we are disappointed with the ruling, it’s just the beginning of the fourth quarter and we are confident that we can turn this around with an appeal that we plan to file in the coming days.”
Oakley was sitting near Dolan at a game on Feb. 8, 2017. He was approached by security soon after arriving and began to scuffle with them before he was removed from his seat and arrested.
When posting a statement about the arrest during the game, the Knicks called Oakley a great Knick but said he had acted in an “abusive manner” and they hoped "he gets some help soon.” Dolan then said during an ESPN radio interview that Oakley may have a problem with alcohol.
But Sullivan said Oakley failed to prove any of the statements were defamatory.
“From its inception, this case has had the feel of a public relations campaign, with the parties seemingly more interested in the court of public opinion than the merits of their legal arguments," Sullivan wrote.
“This is perhaps understandable, given the personal and public nature of the dispute. But while basketball fans in general, and Knicks fans in particular, are free to form their own opinions about who was in the right and whether Oakley's ejection was motivated by something more than the whims of the team's owner, the fact remains that Oakley has failed to allege a plausible legal claim that can meet federal pleading standards.”
Sullivan was a district judge when the case began and now serves on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.