Out! Florida Judge Serves up Dismissal of Tennis Trainer's Breach of Contract Claim against Minor Players
In a contractual dispute between a tennis instructor and the minor players he purportedly coached, a Florida court found multiple faults in the instructor's amended complaint and dismissed the suit, resulting in a straight set victory for the minor players and their father. (Jean v. Francois, No. CACE19-002954 (Fla. Cir. Ct. Broward Cty Sept. 13, 2019)). In the case, the tennis instructor had sought to enforce a service contract that purportedly entitled him to 20% of all of the young players' future earnings. While the court found that plaintiff-tennis instructor, Christophe Jean ("Jean"), had committed an unforced error when he drafted an invalid contract under Florida law, no one could argue with his eye for talent. One of the young tennis players-defendants in question was Naomi Osaka, who burst on the scene when she defeated Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open Women's Singles finals, and is the reigning Australian Open champion and the number three ranked singles player in the WTA rankings (as of the date of this publication).
In 2011, Jean began coaching Naomi Osaka and her sister Mari Osaka ("Defendants" or the "Osakas"), the minor daughters of Leonard Francois ("Francois"), in tennis. According to Jean's amended complaint, in early 2012, the Osakas and their father could no longer afford to compensate Jean for his coaching and equipment, or for travel expenses incurred when appearing at the Osakas' tennis tournaments. As a result, Jean alleged that in March 2012, he entered into a contract with Francois on behalf of his daughters. [note: a poor copy of the contract appears under Exhibit A to the amended complaint]. The Osakas were 14 and 15 years old at the time.
The contract at issue provided for Jean to receive "a fixed fee of twenty percent (20%) on every tennis contract or monetary agreement on behalf of Mari Osaka and Naomi Osaka." It also set forth an "indefinite" term of employment, but was silent as to what services, if any, Jean was obligated to provide Francois and the Osakas, and failed to delineate what obligations the Osakas and Francois owed Jean. According to Jean, he performed under the contract for over five years (after which the defendants allegedly terminated the contract), but never
received any compensation, nor did he receive any income from the Osakas' tennis careers, including from endorsement deals or tournament prize money.
On February 7, 2019, Jean filed a complaint (and later an amended complaint in March 2019) against the Osakas and Francois in Florida Circuit Court, Broward County, asserting three claims: (i) breach of contract; (ii) quantum meruit; and (iii) unjust enrichment. Charging the net, the defendants volleyed by filing a motion to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a cause of action. In response, Jean lobbed his opposition over the net, arguing, in essence, that Osakas' father Francois lawfully executed the agreement on the Osakas' behalf and that the agreement itself was not indefinite because a court could interpret the contract simply as a service contract between a coach and a player. Ultimately, the court made quick work of Jean's claims, finding that all three failed to state a cause of action.
The court began its analysis by noting that, in order for Jean to succeed on his contract claim, he must first prove the existence of an enforceable contract. The court noted that under Florida law, "contracts with a minor are voidable and the minor has a legal right to disavow a contract because of minority." As noted, Mari and Naomi Osaka were 14 and 15 years old at the time of the alleged contract and they subsequently disavowed it. Moreover, under Florida's Child Performer and Athlete Protection Act, Fla. Stat. §743.08, artistic, creative or professional sports contracts with minors can be submitted to a court for approval and afterward, if approved, the minor may not disaffirm the contract based on their status as a minor (however, under Florida law such contracts cannot have a term longer than three years). In a double fault of sorts in his argument for validity, Jean admittedly never submitted the contract to a court for approval and the contract's term was "indefinite." Therefore, because the contract was never validated and the Osakas disavowed it, the court held that it was neither valid nor enforceable.
Alternatively, the court noted that the agreement on its face failed to specify the basic elements for a valid contract, namely offer, acceptance, consideration and sufficient specification of essential terms. The court found that the contract in question was "a nudum pactum – a naked agreement – a promise without legal support, which the law will not enforce…." because the subject contract was silent as to Jean's obligations under the contract, if any, and did not specifically outline any of the Osakas' obligations.
Turning to Jean's equitable claims of quantum meruit and unjust enrichment, the court quickly swatted them away, stating simply that Florida courts have "routinely held that one cannot bring a claim for unjust enrichment against a minor." Jean's final claim against Osakas' father was also called wide because, as the court stated, Francois was acting solely in his capacity as an agent for his daughters, and "Florida law imposes no personal liability on one signing in a representative capacity except in the rare exception where there is an express agreement to the contrary." Accordingly, the court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the amended complaint and dismissed the case in its entirety.
Game. Set. Match.