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July 18 Update
WWE has found itself stuck in the middle of the legal process as it relates to Jimmy Snuka.
Snuka was found not competent to stand trial in the death of his 1983 girlfriend Nancy Argentino because he was determined to be a “shell of a man” suffering from dementia and “damage beyond repair from years of wrestling stunts.”
That opened the door for Snuka to be included in a fresh concussion-related lawsuit filed against WWE and Vince McMahon along with 50+ other wrestlers Monday in Connecticut court.
On the other hand, if Snuka were found to be competent to stand trial in the Argentino case, it would have opened the door for a potential review of how the legal process was handled in 1983 when Argentino originally died and Snuka, then a WWF/E headliner, was questioned by Pennsylvania police.
Related to the fresh concussion lawsuit, attorneys representing Snuka allege that WWE is responsible for Snuka’s current condition where he “now experiences cognitive difficulties including, but not limited to, depression, anger, mood swings, headaches, dizziness, severe loss of memory, confusion.”
The suit continues: “Snuka suffers from significant cognitive and neuropsychological impairment, post-concussion syndrome due to the traumatic brain injuries that he sustained repeatedly as a result of successive blows to the head during his wrestling career.”
The full complaint as it relates to Snuka reads:
Plaintiff Jimmy Snuka, a.k.a. Superfly (“Snuka”) and his guardian, Carole Marie Snuka, is 72 years old and resides with his wife Carole Snuka in Atco, New Jersey. Snuka was born in Fiji and received minimal education. Snuka is illiterate and although he cannot read or write, his wife alleges that the WWE “had him sign stuff all the time.” Snuka performed for WWE between 1982 to 1985 and 1989 to 1992, returning in 1993. Snuka was the WWE headliner for much of his tenure, participating in Wrestlemania V, VI and VII and is one of the most famous wrestlers in the world.
Snuka’s high flying style which served to popularize wrestling around the world is one of the most successful WWE performers of all time. Snuka’s signature move the “superfly splash” was to dive off of the top rope and land on his opponents. Snuka also was involved in one of the most famous stunts in WWE history on October 17, 1983 when he leapt 15 feet off the top of a metal cage in Madison Square Garden. Snuka sustained numerous blows to the head and reports multiple events that are consistent concussions.
During a WWE interview, Snuka was famously struck in the head with a coconut which smashed open as his “opponent” (another deceased WWE wrestler named Roddy Piper) mocked his Melanesian heritage whipped him with a belt and stuffed bananas in his mouth. Snuka recalls that at the time he sustained neurological problems as a result of being struck in the head, and he suffered dizziness and chronic headaches. Snuka now experiences cognitive difficulties including, but not limited to, depression, anger, mood swings, headaches, dizziness, severe loss of memory, confusion. Snuka suffers from significant cognitive and neuropsychological impairment, post-concussion syndrome due to the traumatic brain injuries that he sustained repeatedly as a result of successive blows to the head during his wrestling career.
May 13 Report
Whether or not Jimmy Snuka ever stands trial in the death of his 1983 girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, is up to a Pennsylvania judge determining Snuka’s competency.
However, testimony from a clinical psychologist who has studied 72-year-old Snuka “several times” this year could shed led on the long-term effects of concussions on WWE wrestlers.
Dr. Frank M. Dattilio said at a court hearing Friday that Snuka is a “shell of a man” whose brain is “damaged beyond repair from years of wrestling stunts.”
Snuka is also suffering from dementia that is “worsening by the month,” and he has “serious memory loss,” Dr. Dattilio added. “He is unable to understand the legal process.”
WWE is facing their own legal battle, similar to the NFL, over whether they owe former wrestlers damages from decades ago.
WWE addressed the status of the legal action in their latest 10-Q filing with the SEC this week, noting there is ongoing legal activity in one of the concussion cases.
On October 23, 2014, a lawsuit was filed in the U. S. District Court for the District of Oregon, entitled William Albert Haynes III, on behalf of himself and others similarly situated, v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. This complaint was amended on January 30, 2015 and alleges that the Company ignored, downplayed, and/or failed to disclose the risks associated with traumatic brain injuries suffered by WWE’s performers.
On March 31, 2015, the Company filed a motion to dismiss the first amended class action complaint in its entirety or, if not dismissed, to transfer the lawsuit to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Without addressing the merits of the Company’s motion to dismiss, the Court transferred the case to Connecticut on June 25, 2015. The plaintiffs filed an objection to such transfer, which was denied on July 27, 2015.
On January 16, 2015 a second lawsuit was filed in the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, entitled Evan Singleton and Vito LoGrasso, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., alleging many of the same allegations as Haynes.
On February 27, 2015, the Company moved to transfer venue to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut due to forum-selection clauses in the contracts between WWE and the plaintiffs and that motion was granted on March 23, 2015.
The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on May 22, 2015 and, following a scheduling conference in which the court ordered the plaintiffs to cure various pleading deficiencies, the plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint on June 15, 2015. On June 29, 2015, WWE moved to dismiss the second amended complaint in its entirety.
On April 9, 2015, a third lawsuit was filed in the U. S. District Court for the Central District of California, entitled Russ McCullough, a/k/a “Big Russ McCullough,” Ryan Sakoda, and Matthew R. Wiese a/k/a “Luther Reigns,” individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., asserting similar allegations to Haynes. The Company again moved to transfer the lawsuit to Connecticut due to forum-selection clauses in the contracts between WWE and the plaintiffs, which the California court granted on July 10, 2015.
On September 21, 2015, the plaintiffs amended this complaint and, on November 16, 2015, the Company moved to dismiss the amended complaint. Each of these suits seeks unspecified actual, compensatory and punitive damages and injunctive relief, including ordering medical monitoring. The Haynes and McCullough cases purport to be class actions.
On February 18, 2015, a lawsuit was filed in Tennessee state court and subsequently removed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, entitled Cassandra Frazier, individually and as next of kin to her deceased husband, Nelson Lee Frazier, Jr., and as personal representative of the Estate of Nelson Lee Frazier, Jr. Deceased, v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.
A similar suit was filed in the U. S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas entitled Michelle James, as mother and next friend of Matthew Osborne, minor child, and Teagan Osborne, a minor child v. World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.
These lawsuits contain many of the same allegations as the other lawsuits alleging traumatic brain injuries and further allege that the injuries contributed to these former talents’s deaths. WWE moved to transfer the Frazier and Osborne lawsuits to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut based on forum-selection clauses in the decedents’ contracts with WWE, which motions were granted by the respective courts.
On November 23, 2015, amended complaints were filed in Frazier and Osborne, which the Company moved to dismiss on December 16, 2015 and December 21, 2015, respectively.
Lastly, on June 29, 2015, the Company filed a declaratory judgment action in the U. S. District Court for the District of Connecticut entitled World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. v. Robert Windham, Thomas Billington, James Ware, Oreal Perras and various John and Jane Does seeking a declaration against these former performers that their threatened claims related to alleged traumatic brain injuries and/or other tort claims are time-barred.
On September 21, 2015, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss this complaint, which the Company opposed. The Court previously ordered a stay of discovery in all cases pending decisions on the motions to dismiss.
On January 15, 2016, the Court partially lifted the stay and permitted discovery only on three issues in the case involving Singleton and LoGrasso. Such discovery is to be completed by June 1, 2016 and dispositive motions filed by August 1, 2016.
On March 21, 2016, the Court issued a memorandum of decision granting in part and denying in part the Company’s motions to dismiss the Haynes, Singleton/LoGrasso, and McCullough lawsuits. The Court granted the Company’s motions to dismiss the Haynes and McCullough lawsuits in their entirety and granted the Company’s motion to dismiss all claims in the Singleton/LoGrasso lawsuit except for the claim of fraud by omission.
On March 22, 2016, the Court issued an order dismissing the Windham lawsuit based on the Court’s memorandum of decision on the motions to dismiss. On April 4, 2016, the Company filed a motion for reconsideration with respect to the Court’s decision not to dismiss the fraud by omission claim in the Singleton/LoGrasso lawsuit and, on April 5, 2016, the Company filed a motion for reconsideration with respect to the Court dismissal of the Windham lawsuit.
On April 20, 2016, the plaintiffs filed notices of appeal of the Haynes and McCullough lawsuits. On April 27, 2016, the Company moved to dismiss the appeals for lack of appellate jurisdiction.
The Company believes all claims and threatened claims against the Company in these various lawsuits are being prompted by the same plaintiffs’ lawyer and are without merit. The Company intends to continue to defend itself against these lawsuits vigorously.