The latest development in the LIV-PGA Tour courtroom battle could spell trouble for the Saudi-backed upstarts.
On Thursday night, a federal judge ruled that PGA Tour lawyers could depose the Saudi Public Investment Fund, including PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan, for documents related to the fund and its involvement as LIV Golf’s principal financier. Al-Rumayyan and the PIF had sought protection from the Tour’s legal probes — which threaten to unearth information about the highly secretive fund — on the grounds of “sovereign immunity,” a premise rejected by judge Susan Van Keulen’s ruling.
Al-Rumayyan and the PIF had sought exemption under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a 1976 law that defines the role of the U.S. judicial system in lawsuits against foreign nations and foreign citizens. Under the FSIA, foreign agents are immune from the jurisdiction of U.S. Courts spare for a few exceptions, one of them being when conducting commercial activity within the U.S. In the months preceding Thursday’s ruling, lawyers for LIV, Al-Rumayyan and the PIF argued that the fund was merely an investor in LIV — not a business partner — meaning the PIF was not conducting commercial activity within the United States. The ruling, which was handed down in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, rejected those arguments and asserted that Al-Rumayyan and the PIF were the “moving force behind the founding, funding, oversight and operation of LIV” and therefore not exempt from the Tour’s depositions.
The ruling could mark a watershed moment in the ongoing legal battle between LIV and the Tour over the Tour’s purported monopoly status. Should Al-Rumayyan and the PIF agree to the depositions, Tour lawyers could compel truckloads of documents from the PIF and Al-Rumayyan, lifting the curtain on the actions and motivations of the secretive government-owned fund in golf and more broadly. Should the two parties fail to cooperate with the deposition, they could be held in contempt of court, a decision that could have grave consequences for LIV’s standing with the court in this case. A third option, of course, would be for LIV to withdraw the lawsuit altogether, ending litigation and any hope of the kind of legal discovery that could shift LIV’s standing with the Tour, which has suspended its players indefinitely.
Per an ESPN report, lawyers for LIV and PIF have indicated they will ask a different federal judge, Beth Labson Freeman, to review Van Keulen’s ruling. Golf fans might remember Labson Freeman’s name. Last summer, she dealt LIV another courtroom loss when she ruled that three LIV golfers — Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones — were ineligible to compete in the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
A hearing is scheduled before Labson Freeman for late next week, February 24.