Lawyer Blocks Punter’s Arrival

By Todd Karpovich

Daily Record Business Writer, August 28, 2001
Volume: 2 Number: 49

The lawyer for Eastern Athletic Services, a Timonium sports agency, waited patiently for Todd Sauerbrun to arrive at Baltimore-Washington International Airport so he could take advantage of the “minimum contact” law. An arbitrator set the stage for Eastern Athletic Services to file suit against Sauerbrun who allegedly failed to pay for representation in contract negotiations, and for other services such as financial planning and tax preparations, according to court documents.

However, Ronald V. Miller Jr., an attorney for Eastern Athletic Services, said the case became complicated when it came time to actually collect the money. There are federal and state “minimum contact” laws that say a person must have some association with a state — a resident or business, for instance — in order to file a lawsuit against the person in that jurisdiction. Miller determined that Sauerbrun, who was born in New York and now lives in Chicago, did not have any ties to Maryland, except for his participation in last week’s game against the Ravens.

So Miller capitalized on a stipulation in the law that says a person’s mere presence in a state justifies minimum contact, and then waited for Sauerbrun to get off a plane. “We could not initially sue him in Maryland because he does not have any contacts with the state,” Miller said. “He might come to Maryland every 20 years. So the game was a unique opportunity to serve him and get him processed.” Miller had to go back to his days as a law student at the University of Baltimore to develop his strategy. Miller remembered learning about a case in California — Burnham vs. Superior Court — that set the precedent for minimum contact laws by finding a person’s presence in a state is enough to satisfy the law. In that case, a California woman was able to file a lawsuit against her former husband when he visited the state after moving to New Jersey. The court found that individual states have jurisdiction over non-residents when they are in the state, “regardless of how fleeting.”

Miller used that same concept to serve Sauerbrun. “The only way to have sued Todd in Maryland is to actually serve him here,” said Miller, who now also teaches at the University of Baltimore. Had Miller filed a suit against Sauerbrun without the player being within the state lines, Sauerbrun’s lawyers would have claimed that there was no jurisdiction over him. And Miller concedes he would have lost the case. “The arbitration judgment does not actually mean anything,” Miller said. “That is just the first step for me trying and getting judgment for collecting the money. I needed to get a court order for him to pay.”

Officials with the Carolina Panthers could not be reached for comment yesterday. During the weekend, a similar situation almost happened in California where a process server tried to hand New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams a subpoena as he was walking back to the dugout during a game against the Anaheim Angels. However, a report by the Associated Press said the papers fell to the ground and it was not known whether the papers were considered served. Professional tennis player Roscoe Tanner was arrested during an Atlanta tennis tournament in May for allegedly failing to pay child support.

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