Friday, September 4, 2015

Without a Final Resolution, Play Cannot Proceed

With college football just starting and the NFL season right around the corner, I'm sharing another of my favorite football-themed judicial opinions. 

Despite the almost unbelievable amount of attention recent disputes have garnered, fights between the NFL and the NFLPA over the collective bargaining agreement are nothing new. They've been going on for decades. 

For example, in 1993, 37 players in the NFL's Washington franchise failed to pay their union dues. Under the CBA, players who failed to pay dues were to be suspended. After the NFLPA notified the franchise of the delinquencies, the franchise refused to suspend the players because doing so would have, for all practical purposes, required the franchise to forfeit its final game of the season. The NFLPA filed a grievance, and the arbitrator (not Roger Goodell) held that the CBA required the franchise to suspend those players.

The franchise appealed the arbitrator's decision to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. According to Judge Thomas Hogan, who heard the appeal, the franchise was seeking to “make an end run around the arbitrator’s decision” by filing the appeal. Judge Hogan described the franchise as “behind on the scoreboard and buried in its own territory with less than a minute to play,” and compared the arbitrator’s finding to a “referee’s pass interference call,” where “the key is not necessarily the correctness of the decision, but its finality.” In justifying his order upholding the arbitrator's decision, Judge Hogan noted that, “[w]ithout a final resolution of the matter, play cannot proceed.” 

The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit eventually vacated Judge Hogan's decision on the ground of mootness. But his entertaining opinion lives on!

Happy Friday and Happy Football Season!

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