Knicks Owner James Dolan, MSG Beat Charles Oakley’s Assault Claims

By Peter Hayes | November 10, 2021

Knicks owner James Dolan and the Madison Square Garden Co. won dismissal Monday of a long-running suit by former NBA star Charles Oakley over his removal from the Garden when he was a spectator at a Knicks game.

Oakley, an all-star and longtime fan favorite, sued Dolan after Oakley was pulled out of his seat, escorted from Madison Square Garden, and arrested, during a game on Feb. 8, 2017.

Oakley’s assault and battery claims failed because he didn’t show that the security guards used “objectively unreasonable” force to remove him from the garden, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York said.

The video footage conclusively showed the MSG guards “giving Oakley ample opportunity to leave the arena peaceably,” and under his own power, the court said. The video also showed that Oakley “ignored the guards’ entreaties and repeated attempts to direct him toward the exit,” the court said.

“In fact, the video reveals that it was Oakley who unilaterally escalated the confrontation, leading to his eventual forcible removal,” the court said.

The defendants “needed no reason at all to eject” Oakley from the premises, the court said. So it made no difference whether Oakley was interacting pleasantly with spectators before he was approached by security guards, as Oakley asserted.

The video also refutes Oakley’s assertion that the guards pushed him to the ground, showing instead that he tripped, “nearly dragging down an MSG guard with him,” the court said.

The trial court in February 2020 dismissed the suit, finding the “MSG defendants had the right to expel Oakley” and that “his refusal to leave justified their use of reasonable force.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in November 2021 reinstated Oakley’s allegations of assault and battery but affirmed the dismissal of his defamation and false imprisonment claims.

Oakley presented sufficient evidence of unreasonable use of force to survive a dismissal bid, the appeals court said.

Oakley played for the Knicks from 1988 to 1998. He also played for the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, and Houston Rockets.

Judge Richard J. Sullivan is assigned to the litigation.

Wigdor LLP and Petrillo Klein & Boxer LLP represent Oakley. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP and Walden Macht & Haran LLP represent Dolan.

The case is Oakley v. Dolan, S.D.N.Y., No. 17-cv-6903, 11/8/21.

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