Dominick’s calls $8.9M Jordan verdict ‘grossly excessive’

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Michael Jordan leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Aug. 19, 2015, during his civil trial against the defunct grocery store Dominick’s for using his name and jersey number without permission. | Ashlee Rezin/For the Sun-Times

Michael Jordan’s $8.9 million slam-dunk verdict in Chicago last month is “grossly excessive,” according to the grocery chain’s lawyers who lost bad to the basketball superstar in court.

Dominick’s 2009 ad in a limited-issue Sports Illustrated magazine was not worth the millions awarded by a jury to the Chicago Bulls great, its legal team claims in paperwork filed Tuesday. The defunct grocery store’s lawyers argue Jordan should have done much more to claim the type of cash he makes in endorsement deals with Nike, Upper Deck or Hanes.

“If Dominick’s had somehow duped Mr. Jordan into personally handing out free samples to shoppers on Saturday mornings in his Chicago Bulls uniform for three months, signing his autograph to thousands of shrink-wrapped steaks, and appearing in television commercials that blanketed the national airwaves, perhaps it would have been appropriate to find its use comparable to that of Nike, Upper Deck or Hanes,” Steven Mandell, a lawyer for Dominick’s, wrote.

Then he added: “Though even then, the $8.9 million damages award would have been excessive.”

Jordan sued Dominick’s over the ad that used his name and number “23” with a $2 off coupon for steak. The lawsuit went to trial last month over damages at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse and ended in the eye-popping verdict after Jordan’s representatives testified he only enters into long-term deals worth $10 million or more.

Jordan’s lawyer could not immediately be reached to comment on Tuesday’s arguments by Dominick’s. The grocery store is asking the judge to either reduce the amount Jordan is able to collect or order a new trial.

Mandell called the verdict “the highest ever under the Illinois Right of Publicity Act.” He said it values the Dominick’s ad above seven years of the use of Jordan’s identity by Hanes and five years of that use by Gatorade. He also said it is roughly equal to three months of the use of Jordan’s name by Nike Inc., “which has based an entire billion-dollar line of apparel on Mr. Jordan’s identity.”

He said jurors “appeared primed” to consider inappropriate evidence because of their “adulation” of Jordan. Mandell also pointed out that two jurors posed for photos with Jordan in the courthouse.

Jordan even pulled a “bait-and-switch,” Mandell argued, by assuring the judge he would only seek $2.5 million and then failing to honor that commitment “after he succeeded in introducing inadmissible long-term endorsement contracts.”

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