Powell Brothers in legal war With Warrior Lacrosse Mike Claims Morrow Threatened To "Crush Him"
THE LATEST (6/22): Mediation is over! After 5 hours of intense discussion, a settlement is reached. Don't expect a lot of details but Casey and Ryan are reinstated at Brine and will be back in Rochester uniforms next weekend. We are sure a release will come out soon with slightly more detail, but it's over. Casey and Ryan are back, free from Warrior (other than MLL equipment monopoly) and you can now re-read our "Casey and Ryan Join Brine" article with renewed enthusiasm.
SYRACUSE - Two members of Carthage's "First Family" of lacrosse are involved in a legal battle over their right to endorse lacrosse equipment. A federal judge in Michigan has preliminarily enjoined former Syracuse University lacrosse stars Ryan Powell and Casey Powell from working for well-known equipment maker Brine, Inc., after their former employer, Warrior Lacrosse, filed suit to enforce contract provisions that prohibit the Powells from working for other lacrosse companies.
Warrior fired Casey and Ryan Powell without warning last year, according to federal court documents. Documents allege Warrior terminated the Powells after their younger brother Michael, also a former SU star, signed an employment and endorsement deal with rival Brine instead of Warrior. Casey and Ryan Powell currently star in the professional ranks for the Rochester Rattlers Major League Lacrosse (MLL) team, while Michael plays for the Baltimore Bayhawks. All MLL players use Warrior equipment as part of a league-wide deal.
Warrior Lacrosse is run by former Princeton University lacrosse star David Morrow. He founded the Warren, Michigan-based company in 1993 and sold it to Boston-based footwear-maker New Balance last year.
In the court papers, the Powells say, "The evidence in this case will ultimately show that Warrior's owner, Dave Morrow, terminated Casey and Ryan's agreements out of spite and to 'crush' the Powells."
Warrior's court filings, the basis for the court's preliminary injunction, claim the Powell brothers violated their employment agreements and were subsequently justly fired. The employment agreements contained a restrictive clause that prohibited them from working for another lacrosse company for three years following the end of their work for Warrior. The evidence offered in the case includes documents, statements, and copies of advertising materials for a lacrosse camp that played a role in the brothers' firing.
Warrior's attorneys say the company had cause to fire the Powells.
"The Powells were essentially caught 'red handed' putting on a summer camp, The Powell Brothers Lacrosse Camp, that was expressly and prominently sponsored by a direct competitor of Warrior's, Harrow Sports," wrote Warrior's counsel in a court filing.
Milford, Mass.-based Brine announced last month that it had signed Ryan and Casey Powell to "Team Brine." Michael Powell, Casey and Ryan's younger brother, had already joined Brine last year. "Team Brine" is a group of lacrosse players who promote Brine products.
"We wanted to employ the Powells as marketing personalities, not product or business-development specialists," states Michael Martin, vice-president of sales and marketing for Brine in his federal-court declaration.
Casey and Ryan Powell deny having any knowledge of Warrior's trade practices that would subject them to a legally enforceable employment restriction. In their reply brief in support of the preliminary injunction, Warrior's attorneys openly mocked both the Powells' contentions.
"The Powells' response brief and its purportedly supporting declarations are riddled with so many inaccuracies, baseless suppositions, and sheer conjecture that it is difficult to know where to begin," wrote James Romzek and Michael Brady of Warner, Norcross & Judd, LLP, a Michigan-based law firm with more than 170 attorneys in four offices across that state.
The May announcement of the two older Powells joining Brine didn't sit well with Warrior. The company immediately moved to stop Casey and Ryan Powell from working for their rival, citing the restrictive clauses in their employment contracts. Warrior filed suit against the brothers in federal court in the Eastern District of Michigan. Casey Powell filed suit against Warrior in the Central District of California and Ryan Powell filed suit in the Northern District of New York. The brothers sought judgments declaring Warrior's employment restrictions void and unenforceable.
Robert A. Barrer, a partner in Hiscock & Barclay LLP's Syracuse office, represents Ryan Powell in New York.
Did Warrior make Casey Powell's image or did they tarnish it?
"The case is being actively litigated, and the Powells are exploring all their options," Barrer tells The Central New York Business Journal.
The federal courts consolidated the actions into Warrior's Michigan suit. On June 9, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts issued a preliminary injunction against Casey and Ryan Powell as well as Brine, prohibiting either brother from working for Brine or other lacrosse companies. It also prohibits the two brothers from soliciting any of Warrior's current or former customers or its employees. The order enjoins the Powell brothers in the United States as well as in Ontario. Warrior has posted a $100,000 security to cover any damages should the Powells ultimately prevail. Attorney Eric J. Pelton of Kienbaum Opperwall Hardy & Pelton, PLC, a Detroit-area law firm, represents both brothers in Michigan.
Warrior and Brine have clashed in court before. Federal court records show the companies have clashed over patent rights three times over the past five years.
Founded in 1922 as W.H. Brine, Brine, Inc. entered the lacrosse business in the 1950s. Brine engineers worked for two decades to develop synthetic lacrosse sticks to replace the Native American-founded sport's traditional handcrafted sticks. When Brine became involved in lacrosse, only Chisholm Lacrosse, on the St. Regis Mohawk territory, manufactured lacrosse sticks commercially.
Fighting over younger brother
Michael Powell says Warrior threatened his career if he didn't sign with the lacrosse-equipment maker. In a declaration filed in the Michigan case, Michael Powell recounts his less-than-friendly dealings with Warrior Lacrosse President David Morrow last summer.
Following his graduation from Syracuse University in 2004, both Brine and Warrior sought to sign Michael Powell to endorse their products. The youngest Powell finished his NCAA lacrosse career as a two-time national champion, Syracuse University's all-time leading scorer, and a four-time All American. Michael Powell broke a record jointly held by his brothers to become the university's leading scorer.
In the declaration, Michael Powell says Brine's representatives hoped he would sign with their company, but expressed support for whatever choice he made.
"Brine told me that if I did not sign with them and went with the competition," he wrote, "they would support my decision and would sit down and have a beer with me some day."
Michael Powell contrasts this friendly reception with a warning he says Warrior president Morrow delivered at their first meeting in Michigan.
"Dave Morrow said that Warrior had a winning team, and that if I did not sign with Warrior, he would do everything in his power to crush me," Michael Powell wrote.
A declaration filed in the case also claims Morrow told sporting-goods dealers that he intended to "crush" Casey and Ryan as well.
Casey Powell's declaration states that Morrow had no objections to the Powell brothers' lacrosse-camp appearances until after Michael Powell signed with Brine. Ten days prior to Warrior's termination of Ryan and Casey, news had broken that Michael had signed with Brine.
"I believe the true reason I was terminated from Warrior is because I could not 'deliver' my youngest brother Mike to Warrior," wrote Casey Powell.
In his declaration, Morrow denies making the "crush" statement and states that both older Powell brothers had extensive access to Warrior's trade information while working for the company.
"He [Ryan] participated in numerous meetings where highly confidential product design and development information was discussed," Morrow wrote, "Both Ryan and Casey Powell had extensive access to all Warrior's confidential trade-secret information relating to product design, testing, and manufacturing, given that they had signed their employment agreements."
All three Powells played lacrosse for Carthage High School before heading on to Syracuse University. Casey graduated in 1998, and Ryan graduated in 2000. All three brothers wore the famed number 22 jersey for Syracuse.
Warrior signed Casey to an employment contract in 2001 and Ryan joined the company the following year. Neither brother took his "take-it or leave-it" employment contract to an attorney before signing, according to declarations filed in the case. Their duties consisted of attending lacrosse events to promote Warrior's lacrosse products and the agreements allowed Warrior to use Casey and Ryan's images to promote Warrior Lacrosse. Neither brother performed any project engineering, according to the Powells' court filings.
Each brother signed a six-year contract that allowed Warrior to terminate their employment with 30 days notice, yet retain their images for commercial purposes for the duration of the agreement. The contracts also contained a three-year non-compete clause.
Each brother's contract with Warrior started at $48,000 per year plus bonuses, escalating to $78,000 during the sixth year with the company.
Michael Powell's decision not to follow his brothers into the Warrior camp, caused their employer to jettison the duo, the Powells allege in their court papers.
In July 2004, Casey and Ryan Powell noticed that their Warrior-supplied wireless phones had stopped working, according to court records. The brothers attempted to contact Morrow to see why their phones had been shut off, but he never returned their calls, according to Casey Powell's declaration. He subsequently flew to Michigan to see Morrow and was kept waiting for two hours before a Warrior employee presented him with termination papers, Casey Powell alleges.
Warrior's termination letters, dated July 26, 2004, assert each Powell violated the employment agreement in four ways: failing to represent Warrior in a "professional, conscientious, and dignified manner;" failing to render services "to the best of your ability and with loyalty to Warrior;" as well as claims of promoting competitors; and appearing at lacrosse clinics without the consent of Warrior.
The claims are based on the Powell brothers' appearance at lacrosse clinics associated with another lacrosse-equipment supplier, Harrow Sports. The Powell's employment agreement expressly allows them to appear at lacrosse clinic, according to court filings.
Morrow's declaration states that the camp in question was put on by the Powells and constituted more than an "appearance." Warrior had refused to sponsor the Powells' 2004 summer lacrosse camps after they had not paid for lacrosse equipment sold at previous summer clinics. After Warrior refused to provide more equipment, the Powells' turned to lacrosse dealers for Warrior products, giving Warrior trouble with its dealer network when the bills weren't paid, Morrow alleges.
"In total, the Powell Brothers Lacrosse Camp owed several hundred thousand dollars to various people and businesses," states Morrow.
After Warrior refused to sponsor the Powells' 2004 summer camps, the brothers turned to competitor Harrow, Morrow charges. The brothers claim they attended the Harrow-sponsored clinic in full Warrior regalia and never endorsed any competing products during the event.
Warrior's court filings offer specific instances of the Powell brothers' image being associated with Harrow, including copies of a faxed promotional flyer and Web site.
"Every player who attends gets a FREE Harrow shaft," reads one camp advertisement featuring photographs of Casey and Ryan Powell. The ad also encourages attendees to "GET POWELL-IZED!"
Morrow's court declaration states that the brothers were cautioned about being associated with a direct competitor while they were under contract with Warrior.
Though it declined to provide equipment directly, Warrior attempted to send a product-promotion truck to the Powells' 2004 camp, and when the brothers balked, Warrior's promotions manager Adam Werder traveled to the camp's Connecticut site to see what was happening, according to Morrow's declaration. Werder found a Harrow promotional truck on the site and other Harrow promotional materials, according to his declaration.
When Werder reported back to Morrow about the prominence of Harrow at the Powells' camp, he decided to terminate their employment for violating their employment agreement, according to court papers filed by Warrior.
Morrow's letter of termination to Ryan Powell describes his conduct as "disappointing and disturbing to me on a personal level, given our longstanding relationship."
The letter also recites Ryan Powell's contract restrictions and cautions him against violating its confidentiality and employment limitations. Morrow also cautions Denver-based Harrow Sports against assisting Ryan Powell from violating his employment restrictions. Warrior sent a copy of the termination letter to Mark X. Hayden, Harrow's chief executive officer.
There are six major lacrosse-equipment makers. In addition to Harrow, Warrior and Brine, STX, deBeer, and Shamrock Lacrosse also sell lacrosse gear, according to court records.
Ryan Powell's termination letter also requires that he turn in any Warrior-owned property in his possession, including his non-working cellular telephone and company-issued Mercedes-Benz. Casey Powell had leased his own vehicle at Warrior's direction, according to his declaration. He claims he suffered a $7,000 loss when he had to turn the vehicle back in after Warrior fired him. Morrow's declaration states that Warrior paid for Casey's BMW and Lexus cars under the contract.