Former President Donald Trump, who entered the White House with a reputation for litigiousness, has shown no sign of letting up now that he’s on the other side of his presidential experience. On Monday, one of Trump’s companies went to court to force New York City to rescind its termination of a 2012 agreement for the company to operate and manage a driving range, clubhouse and other golf-related facilities at Ferry Point in the Bronx.
The Parks Department and the city were free to make a terrible business decision. Governments make terrible business decisions all the time. They are governments.
Unfortunately for Trump, this is likely to be a short-lived legal adventure; the city can very probably get this case dismissed before it really even gets started. After all, Trump’s company admits in the petition it submitted to the court that the contract it signed with the Department of Parks and Recreation could be terminated by the city “at will” — though Trump’s company is quick to point out the fine print, in which even an at-will termination “shall not be arbitrary or capricious.”
Fans of Trump’s television show “The Apprentice,” along with everyone who’s ever held a job in America, recognize the words “at will.” Under New York law, an at-will employee may be fired for a good reason, a bad reason or no reason at all, provided that the dismissal is not for an illegal reason, such as unlawful discrimination.
Trump’s lawyers are arguing that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s reason for canceling the golf course contract was due more to a political vendetta than sound business reasons. Indeed, it’s undisputed that de Blasio was not fond of Trump and cited his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol breach for ending his Bronx golf concession.
A short time after the riot, de Blasio said the city would sever all contracts with the Trump Organization, as it allegedly had a right to end a contract with any company that is engaged in criminal activity. "Inciting an insurrection against the United States government clearly constitutes criminal activity," he said at the time on MSNBC.
It was this political “animosity,” in the words of Trump’s lawyers, that caused the contract termination, which they say is not a good enough reason for the Parks Department to terminate the license. Their petition insists, in Trumpian fashion, that the company developed the course into “one of the best public golf courses in the United States.” It even starts out by referring to the “rave reviews” the facility received when it first opened in 2015, quoting none other than golf legend Jack Nicklaus’ personal words of praise.
Trump’s company continues by saying that even the parks commissioner acknowledged it had complied with the contractual maintenance requirements of a “first-class, tournament quality daily fee golf course” — appearing to suggest that the city couldn’t terminate the agreement as long as Golfweekwas satisfied.
A city spokesman, Nick Paolucci, said in a statement published in The Washington Post Monday that the city thought its actions were proper. “We will vigorously defend the city’s decision to terminate the contract,” he said.
In fact, it doesn’t really matter how “best” the golf course was. Trump’s petition admits this was an “at-will” arrangement. The Parks Department and the city were free to make a terrible business decision. Governments make terrible business decisions all the time. They are governments, after all. They are not designed to make good business decisions.
Did de Blasio’s dislike of Trump factor into the decision? All but certainly. Was it a bad reason to terminate the license? Maybe. But that likely doesn’t matter. The essence of an at-will contract is that it’s terminable even for lousy, ill-advised reasons.
Indeed, by pointing out what a poor economic decision it was to cancel this agreement, Trump’s lawyers are making the city’s own argument: It was terminated for a specific reason — albeit a bad one. If that’s the case, then it was a proper “at-will” termination.
In fact, the burden for proof in cases like these is so heavy that Trump will likely lose, even if he makes it past the motion-to-dismiss stage. His company didn’t file a typical lawsuit seeking damages but one that asks the court to force the city to undo a decision the city made. A court will give the city considerable benefit of the doubt in this type of proceeding.
Of course, Trump being Trump, a dismissal here is unlikely to be the end; he likes courtroom dramas too much. His lawyers signaled in their filing that the at-will language, if applicable here, entitles Trump to $30 million in damages. Which means they are essentially telling the city, one way or the other, “See you in court.”