Boogaard v. Nat'l Hockey League

Decision Date18 December 2015
Docket Number13 C 4846
Citation126 F.Supp.3d 1010
Parties Len Boogaard and Joanne Boogaard, Personal Representatives of the Estate of Derek Boogaard, Deceased, Plaintiff, v. National Hockey League, National Hockey League Board of Governors, and Gary B. Bettman, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Joshua D. Branson, David C. Frederick, Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, PLLC, Washington, DC, Thomas A. Demetrio, William T. Gibbs, Corboy & Demetrio, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

Adam M. Lupion, Howard Z. Robbins, Joseph Baumgarten, Proskauer Rose LLP, New York, NY, Steven Ross Gilford, Michael Frederik Derksen, Proskauer Rose LLP, Chicago, IL, for Defendants.


GARY FEINERMAN, United States District Judge

The personal representative of the estate of Derek Boogaard (for ease of exposition, the court will pretend that Boogaard himself is the plaintiff) brought this suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, against the National Hockey League, its Board of Governors, and Commissioner Gary Bettman (collectively, "NHL"), alleging what the complaint took pains to characterize as Illinois tort law claims. Doc. 1-1. The NHL removed the suit to this court on the ground that the claims were completely preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and thus in fact arose under federal law. Doc. 1. The court denied Boogaard's motion to remand, holding that two of the complaint's eight counts were completely preempted and thus federal; there was no need to address the other six counts because removal is proper even if only one claim is federal. Docs. 37-38 (reported as Nelson v. Nat'l Hockey League , 20 F.Supp.3d 650 (N.D.Ill.2014) ).

An amended complaint named new personal representatives and added references to Minnesota law. Doc. 62. The NHL moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), Docs. 43, 86, and the court invoked Rule 12(d) to convert the motion into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, Doc. 58. Over a year of discovery (including extensive motion practice) ensued, after which the summary judgment motion became fully briefed. Because all of Boogaard's claims are completely preempted by § 301 of the LMRA, and because the claims are not viable under the LMRA, the NHL is entitled to summary judgment.


The following facts are stated as favorably to Boogaard, the non-movant, as the record permits. See Woods v. City of Berw y n , 803 F.3d 865, 867 (7th Cir.2015). Both sides largely rely on the same factual predicates. The court therefore will draw background facts from the amended complaint, except for when the parties disagree over a particular material fact.

The NHL is a professional ice hockey league. Doc. 62 at ¶ 36. The National Hockey League Players' Association ("NHLPA") represented the NHL's players in negotiating the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement ("2005 CBA"), which governed relations between the players, the NHL, and its thirty teams at all relevant times. Id. at ¶¶ 28, 36. The NHLPA and the NHL also negotiated a 1996 agreement establishing the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program ("SABH Program"),* which was created "to address substance abuse among NHL players and their families, to treat those with a substance abuse problem in a confidential, fair and effective way, and to deter such abuse in the future." Doc. 10 at ¶ 4; Doc. 10-3 at 3, 9.

Boogaard played in the NHL from 2005 to 2011, first for the Minnesota Wild and then for the New York Rangers. Doc. 62 at ¶¶ 1-2, 15. He was an "Enforcer/Fighter," which meant that his principal job was to get into fistfights with opposing players during games—a task he performed at least 66 times over his career. Id. at ¶¶ 2-3. The fights often left Boogaard with painful injuries, which team physicians, dentists, trainers, and staff treated using "copious amounts of prescription pain medications, sleeping pills, and painkiller injections." Id. at ¶¶ 4-6.

Boogaard became addicted to opioids, a class of painkillers. Id. at ¶ 10. In 2009, the NHL placed him in the SABH Program, whose administrators checked him into an inpatient rehabilitation facility in California called "the Canyon." Id. at ¶ 13. Boogaard was discharged from the Canyon and signed with the New York Rangers, but he suffered a relapse. Id. at ¶¶ 15-19. The SABH Program's administrators then sent him to a different rehab facility, called Authentic Rehabilitation Center ("ARC"). Id. at ¶ 20.

The therapists at ARC reported that Boogaard would not comply with his treatment regimen and that he thought of rehab as a hurdle to clear before he could return to the ice rather than as a necessary medical intervention. Id. at ¶ 21. The NHL knew or had reason to know that Boogaard was not complying with his treatment, but it twice allowed ARC to temporarily release him without a chaperone. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23. On the first night of his second release, Boogaard took Percocet

; the next morning, on May 13, 2011, he was found dead of an accidental drug overdose. Id. at ¶¶ 25, 141-43.

Posthumous tests revealed that Boogaard suffered from a progressive neurodegenerative illness known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

, or "CTE." Id. at ¶ 26-27. Boogaard's CTE likely resulted from the dozens of brain injuries that he sustained during his hockey career. Ibid. Boogaard's brain had deteriorated particularly in the areas that controlled judgment, inhibition, mood, behavior, and impulse control. Id. at ¶ 27.

Boogaard's parents and estate sued the NHLPA in California for breaching its duty of fair representation under federal labor law by failing to file a grievance with the NHL, and the district court dismissed the suit because it was filed after the six-month statute of limitations for such claims had run. See Boogard v. Nat'l Hockey League Players Ass'n , 2013 WL 1164301 (C.D.Cal. Mar. 20, 2013) (noting, id. at 1 n.1, that the case caption misspelled Boogaard's name). Less than two months after the dismissal, Boogaard filed this suit against the NHL. Doc. 1-1. Counts I and II of the amended complaint allege that the NHL negligently failed to prevent Boogaard from becoming addicted to opioids and sleeping pills. Doc. 62 at ¶¶ 43-101. Counts III and IV allege that the NHL breached its voluntarily undertaken duty to curb and monitor Boogaard's drug addiction while he was enrolled in the SABH Program, including by failing to provide him with a chaperone for his second temporary release from ARC and by failing to warn him of the risks associated with leaving the facility. Id. at ¶¶ 102-200. (Those are the counts that the court previously held were completely preempted by the LMRA. 20 F.Supp.3d at 654–58.) Counts V and VI allege that the NHL was negligent in failing to protect Boogaard from brain trauma

during his career, violating its voluntarily undertaken duty to protect his health. Id. at ¶¶ 201-26. And Counts VII and VIII allege that the NHL breached its voluntarily undertaken duty to protect Boogaard's health by failing to prevent team doctors from injecting him with Toradol, an intramuscular analgesic that, according to Boogaard, makes concussions more likely and more dangerous. Id. at ¶¶ 227-67.


The NHL seeks summary judgment on the ground that all of Boogaard's claims are completely preempted by § 301(a) of the LMRA. Doc. 44 at 13-40. The complete preemption doctrine "converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams , 482 U.S. 386, 393, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim." Crosby v. Cooper B Line, Inc. , 725 F.3d 795, 800 (7th Cir.2013) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Ne. Rural Elec. Membership Corp. v. Wabash Valley Power Ass'n , 707 F.3d 883, 894 (7th Cir.2013).

Section 301(a) of the LMRA states:

Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.

29 U.S.C. § 185(a). As interpreted by the Supreme Court, the provision does more than authorize federal courts to hear labor disputes; it also completely preempts state law claims "founded directly on rights created by collective-bargaining agreements, and also claims substantially dependent on analysis of a collective-bargaining agreement." Caterpillar , 482 U.S. at 394, 107 S.Ct. 2425 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Nelson v. Stewart , 422 F.3d 463, 467–69 (7th Cir.2005) ; In re Bentz Metal Prods. Co. , 253 F.3d 283, 285–86 (7th Cir.2001) (en banc). Preemption under § 301 "covers not only obvious disputes over labor contracts, but also any claim masquerading as a state-law claim that nevertheless is deemed ‘really’ to be a claim under a labor contract." Crosby , 725 F.3d at 797.

"[T]o determine whether a purported state-law claim ‘really’ arises under Section 301, a federal court must look beyond the face of plaintiff's allegations and the labels used to describe her claims and ... evaluate the substance of plaintiff's claims." Id. at 800 (internal quotation marks omitted). "[A] state-law claim is ‘completely preempted’ only when it is ‘inextricably intertwined with consideration of the terms of [a] labor contract.’ " Ibid. (quoting Allis Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck , 471 U.S. 202, 213, 105 S.Ct. 1904, 85 L.Ed.2d 206 (1985) ). Put another way, § 301 preempts any state law claim whose resolution "requires the interpretation of a collective-bargaining agreement." Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, Inc....

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