ACC court filing accuses FSU of breach of contract, seeks damages

The Atlantic Coast Conference filed an amended complaint in North Carolina Superior Court on Tuesday seeking damages from Florida State for “serial breaches of critical legal promises and obligations” and questioned FSU’s right to have leadership in ACC positions.

The 55-page filing in Mecklenburg County marks the latest in the procedural jockeying between the ACC and Florida State over that school’s challenge to the league’s grant of rights.

The ACC had initially filed a claim on Dec. 21 to protect the league’s grant of rights, which runs through 2036. FSU filed the next day in Leon County (Florida), claiming that the ACC restrained trade and breached the contract and citing years of mismanagement in the league.

It began what promises to be a prolonged legal battle to test the legality of the ACC’s grant of rights agreement.

The ACC filing on Tuesday includes six claims, including FSU breaching its contract with the ACC, breaching confidentiality in the media rights agreement and breaching fiduciary obligations and obligations of good faith.

The complaint includes a new claim for potentially “substantial” damages from alleged contract breaches: “The Conference have and recover of Florida State damages for its breach of the ACC Constitution and Bylaws in an amount to be proven at trial but which the Conference believes will be substantial.”

The filing also challenges FSU’s ability to have school officials in conference leadership positions, which includes FSU president Richard McCullough being on the ACC’s board of directors and the finance committee.

It asks for a “permanent injunction barring Florida State from participating in the management of the affairs of the Conference while it has a direct and material conflict of interest” with the conference’s objectives.

If the entire legal process plays out, it’s expected to take years. The next key date is Feb. 16, when both sides have agreed to respond to the initial filings.

The ACC’s amended complaint portends the league’s legal strategy, which reinforces how FSU was a willing participant in agreeing to the grant of media rights that it’s now trying to legally unwind from. Florida State has estimated it would cost more than a half-billion dollars — $572 million — to leave the ACC without some type of legal win or settlement between the sides.

The ACC made clear in its amended complaint that FSU accepted “hundreds of millions of dollars” as part of the ACC media agreements for more than a decade. The league is seeking a declaration that the grant of rights is “valid and enforceable” and that FSU “knowingly executed” the grant of rights and knew the terms.

“In signing the Grant of Rights and its amendment, Florida State promised that its Grant was ‘irrevocable’ and ‘exclusive’ through 2036,” the amended complaint states. “It further explicitly agreed that it would not ‘take any action, or permit any action to be taken by others subject to its control … that would affect the validity and enforcement’ of the Grant of Rights.”

A Florida State spokesperson told ESPN on Wednesday night that the university was aware of the ACC filing and had no further comment.

The university’s filing in late December to sue the ACC over the grant of rights was a signal that Florida State is preparing to depart the conference and likely attempt to eventually join the Big Ten or SEC.

FSU alleged “chronic fiduciary mismanagement and bad faith” in its initial 38-page lawsuit. It was the culmination of a near yearlong drumbeat from FSU officials about seeking to depart the ACC, as McCullough said this summer that FSU would consider leaving unless there was “radical change” to the ACC’s revenue distribution.

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