For Claimants: Sullivan & Galleshaw, LLP, By: Keith Sullivan, Esq., Fasulo, Shalley & DiMaggio, By: Louis V. Fasulo, Esq.
For Defendant: Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General, By: Ross N. Herman, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
MELVIN L. SCHWEITZER, JUDGE
This is the court's decision on liability after a five-day trial (July 13-17, 2009) which followed the court's earlier summary judgment decision (November 26, 2008) where the court dismissed claimants' fraud and breach of contract claims, but denied defendant's motion for summary judgment with respect to claimants' negligence claim.
The claim arises from the professional boxing match between junior welterweight fighters, Joey Gamache and Arturo Gatti on February 26, 2000 at Madison Square Garden, televised by HBO. The bout was the co-featured prelude that evening to a high-profile welterweight match between Oscar De La Hoya and Derrell Coley. The bout was authorized and fought under the supervision of the New York State Athletic Commission (Athletic Commission or Commission). Mr. Gamache entered the ring with a record of 55 wins (38 by knockout), 3 losses and was ranked as one of the top boxers in the world in several weight divisions. Mr. Gatti, a former junior lightweight world champion had a record of 30 wins (25 by knockout), 4 losses. Mr. Gatti knocked out Mr. Gamache early in the second round and Mr. Gamache sustained head injuries that ended his boxing career.
Mr. Gamache alleges here that the official weigh-in for the bout, conducted by Athletic Commission officials on the day before the fight, was done negligently. The fighters had contracted to weigh no more than 141 pounds. According to Mr. Gamache, Mr. Gatti did not make this contract weight, yet despite objections at the weigh-in from the Gamache camp that he did not, Mr. Gatti was allowed by the Athletic Commission to fight anyway. Mr. Gamache asserts that the result of the Commission's failure to enforce the applicable contract weight at the weigh-in was that Mr. Gatti then was able to rehydrate and further nourish himself in the ensuing 30 hours before the bout, and thus came into the ring weighing approximately 20 pounds over the prescribed weight for the fight, three or four weight classifications above the junior welterweight category they were fighting in. The weight mismatch, according to Mr. Gamache, enabled Mr. Gatti to land punches that were far more powerful, and thus damaging, which resulted in Mr. Gamache being quickly knocked out and seriously injured. According to Mr. Gamache's counsel in his opening statement: "This case is not about a mismatch of skill. It's about a mismatch of the size that came about as a direct result of the State's failure to uphold their rules and regulations."
Defendant counters that the Athletic Commission properly conducted the weigh-in, and that Mr. Gatti did make the 141 pound weight limit prescribed for the fight. Any subsequent weight gain that Mr. Gatti was able to achieve during the customary rehydration and replenishment period after the weigh-in and before the fight was permissible and is the only explanation for why Mr. Gatti may have appeared bigger and heavier than Mr. Gamache on fight night. Defendant also contends that if Mr. Gamache's corner believed the weigh-in was not conducted properly, they did not lodge an effective protest at the time. And, finally, defendant disputes that Mr. Gamache was able to prove the knockout was caused by anything other than Mr. Gatti's boxing and punching prowess.
[The] summary of the testimony of each witness deemed relevant for purposes of the court's decision [was redacted for purposes of publication].  The court's findings of fact and conclusions of law then are set forth, followed by a discussion of certain aspects of the evidence that bear on the court's findings.
The court's findings of fact and conclusions of law follow.
In this court's decision denying defendant's motion for summary judgment (Gamache v State of New York, NYLJ, Jan. 21, 2009, at 26, col 1) (M-74200), the court concluded that issues of fact existed as to whether the Athletic Commission negligently conducted the ministerial act of weighing Mr. Gatti at the official weigh-in to determine whether he was in compliance with the specified contract weight for the fight; and also that issues of fact existed as to whether the Athletic Commission negligently exercised its discretion by allowing the bout to proceed at all (and letting the fighters use 8 ounce gloves) if there was a weight differential between the two fighters of almost 20 pounds at the time of the fight itself. After this ruling, the New York Court of Appeals decided McLean v City of New York, 12 N.Y.3d 194 (2009), in which it eliminated the possibility that governmental tort liability may be found when official action involves the exercise of discretion by government officials.  McLean reaffirmed, however, that the State may be held liable for negligently performing a ministerial act. Negligently performed ministerial acts can subject the State to liability only in the circumstances set forth in McLean, that is, where a special relationship exists. In this court's summary judgment decision, the court already has found such a relationship to exist here by virtue of the Athletic Commission's statutory and regulatory relationship with the fighters under its jurisdiction, and that the right of an aggrieved fighter to sue the State in such circumstances may be fairly implied.  The court's findings thus take into account the law as it exists today with regard to discretionary governmental acts, enunciated in McLean.
The court finds that claimants proved by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence that the Athletic Commission, by its officials and employees, violated its duty of care to Mr. Gamache as a licensed boxer under the Commission's jurisdiction and control, in its performance of the ministerial act of conducting the official weigh-in of Arturo Gatti on February 25, 2000. Claimants proved Mr. Gatti was allowed to get off the scale before it reasonably could be determined that he "made weight," and, more likely than not, Mr. Gatti weighed in excess of the 141 pound contract weight at the time of the official weigh-in.
The court further finds, however, that claimants failed to prove by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence that the Athletic Commission's ministerial breach of duty in this regard was the proximate cause of the career-ending defeat and injuries sustained by Mr. Gamache in the fight itself, and thus defendant is not liable to claimants for its negligence.
The court also finds that any other allegedly negligent acts or omissions of the Athletic Commission after the official weigh-in and before the fight were matters entirely within the discretion of Commission officials and employees, and, as a matter of ...