US jumping promoters Morrissey Management Group LLC (MMG) and Canadian collaborators Angelstone Farms Inc are being sued for allegedly lifting a team jumping series idea from the Spanish corporation they had been hired to help.

A lawsuit has been lodged with the US District Court, Southern District of Florida by National Equestrian League, LLC (NEL) and their Spanish co-plaintiffs Jumping Clash, SL (JC) against defendants Matthew Morrissey, Keean White, Angelstone Farms, MMG and Major League Show Jumping LLC.

It is alleged that the defendants caused substantial harm and financial loss to JC and its US arm NEL after contracting to organize the NEL, but then cancelling dates, and fraudulently adopting the NEL model for their own Major League in February this year.

The complaint alleges that the JC idea was worked up [in Europe] over many years as a franchise team series. The originators wanted to launch in North America, styling it the “NFL of equestrianism.” Their developed plan included sponsorship, advertising, television coverage, betting and equipment sales. JC copyrighted the format, logos and other information, and set up the NEL to promote JC in north America.

In or around July 2017, JC met MMG who agreed to help once approval had been obtained from the FEI. The complaint states that FEI approval was a “detailed and time-consuming process, requiring extensive work, know-how, and development of the horse jumping league concept and business plans.” [Editorial note: the FEI has told that it has not approved the NEL.]

After “numerous” meetings, JC contracted MMG as organizer, its duties being review of business plans and presentations, identifying venues, securing events, assisting with strategic plans, finding investors and other important tasks. A further confidentiality agreement prevented Morrissey from disseminating information or using JC information for any other purpose.

At another meeting in Florida, MMG introduced JC to White as a possible collaborator in Canada and in acting as a manager for team sales. White’s company, Angelstone, was contracted as a consultant to NEL, also agreeing to confidentiality clauses.

The plaintiffs allege that “despite being experts at event promotions, MMG and Morrissey sabotaged the NEL by failing to share necessary information about it. This led to wasted time and resources and required retention of an additional consultant.”

MMG had “performed poorly, underestimating the expense of bookings and taking much longer than necessary” and “induced” JC to let MMG book dates in its own name. MMG and Morrissey allegedly further “sabotaged” the NEL in February by unilaterally cancelling event dates, triggering cancellation fees and damaging NEL’s reputation.

JC alleges that MMG never obtained a contract for JC with a promoter. At first JC were surprised, until they heard about the Major League, which they believe the defendants formed “surreptitiously” some time before February 20.

It is alleged that the defendants misinformed the FEI in January or February 2020 that the NEL was not going ahead. JC further alleges that on or about March 13, Morrissey attempted to “conceal his moves by claiming that he had not heard from the plaintiffs and had assumed that the NEL plan was not going forward.”

Even at this stage, Morrissey did not disclose the Major League, it is claimed. Yet there was a new website for Major League, advertising [before the Covid-19 pandemic halted global horse show activity] that the new Major League would hold 10 events in 2021.

The plaintiffs allege that the defendants were “unjustly enriched” and seek compensation, damages and injunctive relief on various counts ‒ copyright infringement, breach of contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, tortious interference and conspiracy.

Led by father-son duo Michael and Matt Morrissey, MMG boasts more than 50 years of experience producing high-profile events, including the American Gold Cup CSI4*-W, Old Salem Farm Spring Horse Shows, Great Lakes Equestrian Festival, National Horse Show CSI4*-W, Upperville Colt and Horse Show and Lake Placid Horse Show.

The personnel behind Jumping Clash are not named in the complaint. However, they include Daniel Entrecanales and Pablo Márquez, organizers of Madrid Horse Week, a FEI World Cup qualifying show.

Entrecanales and Marquez tried to get the similarly named Jumping Clash Challenge off the ground in Europe several years ago, without success. The earlier venture was trialed at Madrid in November 2016, a head-to-head elimination-style contest for individual riders developed specially to simplify the sport for TV. The Spaniards had hoped to grow that earlier proposal in the US and Middle East as well as Europe.