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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Hockey League on Friday sued former Phoenix Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes, seeking to recover more than $61 million over the trucking magnate's management of the struggling franchise.
The team filed for bankruptcy last May and was bought by the NHL for $140 million in November. That purchase followed a U.S. bankruptcy judge's rejection of a takeover bid by Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, the co-chief executive of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd.
Earl Scudder, a lawyer for Moyes, did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday evening. Other defendants in the case are Moyes' wife and a family trust.
The NHL filed its lawsuit with the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan, where the league is based.
It accused Moyes of violating an agreement he had entered with the league by refusing to fund the Coyotes' obligations; secretly entering sale talks with Balsillie, who hoped to move the team to Hamilton, Ontario; and filing a bankruptcy petition to accomplish that sale without league approval.
According to the complaint, the NHL is seeking $30 million for violations of the agreement, $10 million for aiding and abetting violations of the Coyotes' fiduciary duty to the league, $10 million of punitive damages, and $11.6 million to cover amounts that the NHL paid to Coyotes creditors.
The NHL said it may also seek to recover $8 million that represents unpaid salary owed to Wayne Gretzky, the Hall of Fame center and former Coyotes coach. It said whether Gretzky is owed that money will be determined in the bankruptcy case.
In the complaint, the NHL also said it was forced to buy the Coyotes because of the defendants' actions, and "expects to incur approximately $20 million in losses as a result of that purchase in the current NHL season."
Moyes and his family control the trucking company Swift Transportation Co.
The case is National Hockey League v. Moyes et al, New York State Supreme Court, New York County, No. 600568/2010.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Richard Chang