The California Supreme Court on Wednesday denied the NCAA’s petition to review an appellate court ruling that allowed former USC assistant football coach Todd McNair’s defamation lawsuit against the organization to proceed.
That means the case -- on appeal since 2012 -- can finally resume in Los Angeles Superior Court.
A three-justice panel in the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled last December that McNair had “demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the merits of his defamation case.” The NCAA had wanted the appellate court to strike McNair’s complaint and dismiss the lawsuit.
McNair sued the NCAA in June 2011 after being sanctioned along with USC following the organization’s investigation that focused on Trojans running back Reggie Bush.
The decision Wednesday is the latest in a string of legal setbacks for the NCAA in the long-running case.
L.A. Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller denied the NCAA’s motion to dismiss the case in 2012 and wrote that some emails between the organization’s Committee on Infractions “tend to show ill will or hatred.”
The NCAA appealed and aggressively fought to seal hundreds of pages of documents that included an email describing McNair as a “lying, morally bankrupt criminal.”
The 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the attempt with a strongly worded opinion in February 2015, noting that the “NCAA is neither a part of our judicial system nor of our law enforcement apparatus.”
The appellate court followed up with the 30-page December decision that affirmed Shaller’s original ruling on McNair’s libel and slander claims, but said the coach hadn’t “demonstrated the likelihood of prevailing” on allegations that the NCAA’s sanctions caused USC to not renew his contract.
But the three-justice panel again had strong words for the NCAA.
“McNair made a sufficiently convincing showing that the NCAA recklessly disregarded the truth,” Justice Richard D. Aldrich wrote in the opinion, “when the COI deliberately decided not to correct the investigation’s errors or to acquire more information about what McNair knew concerning the rules violations, even after McNair notified the Appeals Committee of the errors.”
The opinion added that “without a finding against McNair, no penalties could have been instituted against USC for Bush’s receipt of improper benefits.”
Last month, the NCAA requested that Shaller be removed as the case’s judge in L.A. Superior Court. The filing noted the Shaller is a USC graduate.
In support of the request, the NCAA attached three news stories written in 2012 and 2013. It also mentioned three comments left below a CBS Sports story that speculated about Shaller’s USC connection.
The court rejected the request as “untimely and premature” and wrote that none of the issues cited by the NCAA are “legal grounds for disqualification.”
A case management hearing in L.A. Superior Court is scheduled for May.
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