By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal judge has dismissed former New York Knicks star Charles Oakley’s lawsuit against team owner James Dolan and Madison Square Garden Co stemming from his forcible, televised ejection from a 2017 basketball game.
Circuit Judge Richard Sullivan said Oakley, 56, failed to show that the defendants defamed him by falsely branding him an alcoholic and accusing him of assaulting Garden workers at the Feb. 8, 2017, game between the Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers.
Sullivan also said Oakley failed to show that his treatment by Garden personnel at the game, where he was arrested, handcuffed and led away from his courtside seat, amounted to assault and battery, as well as false imprisonment.
Even if fans might speculate whether the ejection “was motivated by something more than the whims of the team’s owner, the fact remains that Oakley has failed to alleged a plausible legal claim that can meet federal pleading standards,” the judge wrote.
The Knicks have had three winning seasons and 13 coaches in the last 19 years under Dolan, who is also executive chairman of MSG and co-defendant MSG Networks.
Oakley, a 19-year National Basketball Association veteran and fan favorite who was a Knicks power forward from 1988 to 1998, has long said he did nothing wrong, and plans to appeal.
“Charles is not one to give up,” his lawyer Douglas Wigdor said in a statement. “It’s just the beginning of the fourth quarter and we are confident that we can turn this around.”
MSG welcomed the decision.
“This was an incident that no one was happy about,” it said. “Maybe now there can be peace between us.”
The incident deepened a long feud between Dolan and Oakley, who helped the Knicks reach the 1994 NBA finals, where they lost to the Houston Rockets.
Oakley sued for defamation over several statements, including when the Knicks tweeted that his behavior was “highly inappropriate and completely abusive” and expressed hope he “gets some help soon,” which Oakley said insinuated substance abuse.
Dolan, meanwhile, told ESPN radio that Oakley “has a problem with anger” and “may have a problem with alcohol.”
Sullivan concluded that Oakley, a public figure, failed to show that any defendants acted with “actual malice,” and “cannot cry foul merely because Garden security guards exercised the lawful right to remove him from the arena.”
Manhattan prosecutors brought and later dropped misdemeanor assault and trespass charges against Oakley.
Sullivan, previously a federal district judge, now sits on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)