STAMFORD Angry judge throws out WWE lawsuit
HARTFORD — In a ruling marked by sharp rebukes and sanctions, a federal judge in Hartford has dismissed the last and largest of a series of lawsuits charging that WWE forced wrestlers into performances that led to brain injuries and covered up the effects.
The ruling Monday by Judge Vanessa Bryant ends, at least for now, claims by more than 65 former wrestlers against the Stamford-based entertainment juggernaut. Wrestlers - or their estates - as famous as Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and some who never even made it into a ring had brought the lawsuits through a Massachusetts lawyer, Constantine Kyros.
Bryant slammed Kyros in the latest decision, not only throwing out the claims - all of them - but ordering Kyros to pay legal fees to WWE that could easily top $600,000. And in a highly unusual move, she required him to send Monday’s ruling to all of his present, past and future wrestling clients, “to protect the public.”
“Attorney Kyros’ decision to assert frivolous claims has required the Court to waste considerable judicial resources sifting through three unreasonably long complaints filed in the Laurinaitis action, with the vague hope that some claim, buried within a mountain of extraneous information, might have merit,” Bryant wrote in her 39-page decision.”
Joe Laurinaitis — aka Road Warrior Animal — was the main plaintiff in the case.
The gist of the claims - since the first case in 2014 -- was that WWE knew or should have known that concussions and other head injuries can and do lead to fatal or disabling conditions such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE; and that WWE - run and controlled by the McMahon family, at times including Linda McMahon, now head of the U.S. Small Business administration - coerced its wrestling performers into dangerous acts without providing follow-up medical care.
Bryant found that across the board, the wrestlers’ claims - including fraud and racketeering by WWE -- missed state and federal statutes of limitation, and that many of the claims were just plain false. The cases were so flawed, so full of what Bryant and WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt called deception and worse, that decision after decision by Bryant over the last three years offered Kyros one more chance to prove his case or face sanctions.
“Attorney Kyros has offered the Court no reason to believe that if given a fifth, sixth, or seventh chance, he would prosecute this case in a manner consistent with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,” Bryant wrote Monday.
That’s highly unusual language from a judge and on Tuesday, the vitriol from the two sides didn’t stop.
Kyros, reached in his main office in Hingham, Mass., indicated he’d appeal, and that Bryant missed a main point of his arguments: CTE cases, because they are developing medical conditions, are not subject to the same time limits for filing.
“The decision is wrongly decided on a number of factual and legal grounds. The court simply ignored our [statute of limitations] arguments and paid no attention to the 60 detailed personal appeals in affidavits requested by the Judge almost a year ago,” Kyros said in an email Tuesday.
“The comments about me personally are inaccurate, and over the top.”
Bryant previously dismissed earlier rounds of cases, starting with one brought by Billy Jack Haynes in late 2014. This case was filed in 2017 and consolidates 57 different claims — all now tossed.
“We feel vindicated,” McDevitt, a partner at KL Gates in Pittsburgh and a 30-year outside counsel for WWE, said Tuesday. “From day one with this guy, it has been every single case he has filed, false allegations.”
In one example, McDevitt said, and Bryant agreed, the claims filed by Kyros included language lifted from the famous brain-injury case against the NFL (which settled in part for $1 billion and remains active) - and even incorrectly named a former NFL player as a former WWE wrestler.
McDevitt said a previous order for Kyros to pay legal costs will amount to $178,000, and the latest two sanctions will each be larger than that.
“This was a lot of work that he put us through just to show his fraudulent behavior,” McDevitt said. “We’re pulling the numbers together.”
WWE argued that many of the wrestlers’ claims were false, including one by Evan Singleton, who was fully disabled according to the claim but was found to be competing in the “world’s strongest man” event.
There’s little doubt that severe head blows of the sort that wrestlers in the ’80s sustained can cause life-threatening injuries, but that’s not the subject of these court battles.
“It’s not about whether they have an injury,” McDevitt said. “The allegation is that the WWE committed some fraud…concealed it from the wrestlers.”
That is offensive and false, McDevitt said. “When all this stuff about CTE first started coming out….what the company did then was what any responsible company would do…we began a process of annual educational programs for the talent, all of which have been recorded and put into the record.”
It was in 2007 when former wrestler Chris Benoit killed his wife and son and then himself. He was found to have had CTE, one of the first confirmed cases of the condition.
But, as Bryant noted in the decision, virtually all of the wrestlers had retired or left WWE. “Plaintiffs’ counsel therefore lacks any good faith basis for asserting that WWE was aware of any association between professional wrestling and CTE,” she wrote - and even if WWE did know about it, the company’s information was more or less the same as the wrestlers’ at that time because CTE was newly unfolding in the public consciousness.
McDevitt said he believes Kyros should be disbarred, but stopped short of saying he or WWE would bring a formal action.
Kyros said, “Given the magnitude of the health crisis in pro wrestlers, it is understandable that the WWE would want to launch a campaign of personal destruction against me and call for disbarring the advocate who is directly responsible for obtaining at least five CTE studies in some of the most famous wrestlers ever to perform for WWE including Jimmy Snuka, Balls Mahoney and Mr. Fuji. If I were disbarred, Mr. McDevitt would soon be out of work as he needs to work overtime to fight my clients just claims.”
McDevitt rebuffed that, saying, “He’s convinced a lot of these guys that he was the lawyer that secured a $1 billion settlement in the NFL case…He had nothing to do with it and so they all bought onto the idea that he was this top notch lawyer.”