July 16, 2021

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Houston Astros fans struck out in their quest for ticket refunds over the Major League Baseball team’s sign-stealing scandal, when a Texas state appeals court found they had no legal basis to collect damages.

Reversing a lower court judge, the 14th Court of Appeals in Houston said on Thursday that buying tickets gave fans merely a right to watch games in person, not a right to have games played honestly or for the Astros to live up to their “Earn History” slogan.

The plaintiffs accused the Astros of overcharging for full and partial season tickets from 2016 to 2019 by concealing how its players stole pitch signs from opposing catchers, including in 2017, when the team won the World Series.

An MLB probe found in January 2020 that Astros employees watched a feed from a center field camera to decode signs, and banged on a trash can to tell batters what pitches to expect.

The Texas court found the proposed class action similar to a New York Jets fan’s case against the New England Patriots over that National Football League team’s secret videotaping of signals from Jets coaches, in the “Spygate” scandal.

A federal appeals court dismissed that lawsuit in 2010.

“The plaintiffs’ claims arise from the way the Astros played the game and the plaintiffs’ ’embarrassment, disappointment, shame, and disgrace,’” the Texas court said. “Claims based on how a sports team plays the game are not cognizable.”

Bob Hilliard, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his clients plan to appeal the three-judge panel’s decision.

“Cheaters win,” he said in an email on Friday. “The Astros’ sign-stealing cheating scandal and the damages incurred by the season ticket-holders… were the result of a meticulous pre-game, off-field commitment and goal-oriented determination. A widespread scandal to defraud consumers.”

The Astros fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow after MLB suspended them for one year because of the scandal. Hinch now manages the Detroit Tigers.