Empty Threats? – The NSAC’s Weak Position To Impose Fines on Sonnen

UpdateAugust, 6, 2014 – Bleacher Report, who initially broke this story, has obtained correspondence between Sonnen’s lawyers and the Nevada Commission.

The legal arguments advanced largely mirror the below arguments and additionally point to recorded comments of NSAC Chairman Francisco Aguilar, where he agreed that Metamoris “is not subject” to the ban imposed on Sonnen.  Despite this the NSAC is reportedly not backing down and neither is Sonnen.

Here are copies of Sonnen’s lawyer’s letters to the NSAC

chairman-aguiilar-letter-08-01-2014

chairman-aguiilar-follow-up-letter-08-04-2014

It appears a game of legal chicken is going to take place.  If Sonnen competes and fines are issued, the Courts in Nevada will likely be asked to weigh in on this and ultimately decide who is right in this battle of wills.

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Today it was rumored that the Nevada State Athletic Commission threatened to fine ‘retired’ MMA athlete Chael Sonnen $250,000 “per failed drug test violation if he competes at Metamoris“.  The problem?  They likely don’t have the right to do so.

By way of brief background, Sonnen was handed a two year suspension by the Nevada commission following multiple failed drug tests.  They could have fined him for his transgressions at that time but did not.  Instead they waived fines in lieu of an agreement that Sonnen would cooperate with the NSAC in addressing their PED policies and further secured his agreement that he would not ‘fight‘ in any other jurisdiction during the time of his suspension.

When Nevada realized that Sonnen was scheduled to compete at Metamoris , a professional grappling event hosted in California, it appears some considered this fighting triggering a breach of the secured agreement.  The problem with this, however, is that Metamoris likely cannot be considered a ‘fight’ under Nevada law.

Nevada was well aware they could not ban Sonnen from fighting in another jurisdiction.  Appreciating this, the NSAC was very careful in the wording of their penalty which was phrased as follows:

we will solicit Mr. Sonnen’s agreement that he will not fight in any other jurisdiction for that same period of time.”  Sonnen agreed to these terms.  The only question is whether competing in Metamoris can equal a ‘fight’ as defined in Nevada law thereby breaking this agreement allowing Nevada to reconsider their penalties.

The commission did not bother defining what they meant by fight.  The terns likely would be interpreted synonymously with the types of events the Nevada commission has the authority to regulate.  Under Nevada’s combat sports regulations the term ‘fight’ is not defined, instead the phrase ‘unarmed combat’ is used and is defined as follows:

boxing or any form of competition in which a blow is usually struck which may reasonably be expected to inflict injury.

The key for a non boxing event being captured by this definition is the word ‘blow’ which would be synonymous with strikes.  It is hard to see how Sonnen’s agreement could be violated by his participation in a grappling event which does not allow striking.

Lastly, there is a legal principle known as Contra Proferentem which basically means that any ambiguity in a contract is to be interpreted against the person that drafted the ambiguous phrase.  In the case of Sonnen, the stipulation that he not ‘fight’ in another jurisdiction was a term agreed to by Sonnen in essence creating a verbal contract.  The NSAC selected this term and failed to define it at the hearing.  The Commission should not be given the benefit of a broad interpretation of the term after the fact and the contra proferentum principle seeks to prevent such a result.

The Nevada commission, while perhaps not pleased with Sonnen’s intent to compete in a high profile event, in all likelihood lacks the power to reopen this matter and hit Sonnen with this threatened fine.

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