Brady v. Nat'l Football League, Civil No. 11–639 (SRN/JJG).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtMEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Citation779 F.Supp.2d 992,190 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2905,2011 Trade Cases P 77427
PartiesTom BRADY, Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson, Ben Leber, Logan Mankins, Peyton Manning, Von Miller, Brian Robison, Osi Umenyiora, Mike Vrabel, Carl Eller, Priest Holmes, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Ryan Collins, and Antawan Walker, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,v.NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil No. 11–639 (SRN/JJG).
Decision Date25 April 2011

779 F.Supp.2d 992
190 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2905
2011-1 Trade Cases P 77,427

Tom BRADY, Drew Brees, Vincent Jackson, Ben Leber, Logan Mankins, Peyton Manning, Von Miller, Brian Robison, Osi Umenyiora, Mike Vrabel, Carl Eller, Priest Holmes, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, Ryan Collins, and Antawan Walker, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, et al., Defendants.

Civil No. 11–639 (SRN/JJG).

United States District Court, D. Minnesota.

April 25, 2011.


[779 F.Supp.2d 997]

Barbara P. Berens and Justi R. Miller, Berens & Miller, PA, Timothy R. Thornton, Briggs & Morgan, PA, Minneapolis, MN, Bruce S. Meyer and James W. Quinn, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, Christopher R. Clark, David G. Feher, David L. Greenspan, Jeffrey L. Kessler, Jennifer Stewart and Molly Donovan, Dewey & LeBoeuf, LLP, New York, NY, for Plaintiffs Brady, Brees, Jackson, Leber, Mankins, Manning, Miller, Robison, Umenyiora and Vrabel.Arthur N. Bailey, Jr., Hilary K. Scherrer, Jon T. King, Michael D. Hausfeld and Michael P. Lehmann, Hausfeld LLP, San Francisco, CA, Daniel S. Mason, Mark J. Feinberg and Michael E. Jacobs, Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason LLP, and Samuel D. Heins and Vincent J. Esades, Heins Mills & Olson PLC, Minneapolis, MN, for Plaintiffs Eller, Holmes, Ayanbadejo, Collins and Walker.Daniel J. Connolly and Aaron D. Van Oort, Faegre & Benson, LLP, Minneapolis, MN, Benjamin C. Block, Gregg H. Levy and James M. Garland, Covington & Burling, LLP, Washington, DC, David Boies and William A. Isaacson, Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP, Armonk, NY, for Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, District Judge.

This matter is before this Court in these consolidated actions on the motions for a preliminary injunction sought by Plaintiff Tom Brady, et al. (the “Brady Plaintiffs”) as well as by Plaintiff Carl Eller, et al. (the “Eller Plaintiffs”) (Doc. Nos. 2 & 58).1

[779 F.Supp.2d 998]

For the reasons stated below, this Court grants the Brady Plaintiffs' motion. This ruling renders moot the Eller Plaintiffs' motion, which seeks identical relief, that is, an injunction lifting the “lockout.” See infra notes 52 & 57.I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Brady Plaintiffs are nine professional football players and one prospective professional football player who have been or seek to be employed by Defendants, the National Football League (“NFL”) and the 32 separately-owned NFL teams (collectively, “the NFL” or “the League”). The Brady Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on behalf of themselves and similarly situated players, alleging antitrust violations and breach of contract based on Defendants' actions, inter alia, in imposing a “lockout” or “group boycott” of the Players. (Doc. No. 1 (Complaint) ¶¶ 116–60.) Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and damages. ( Id. at 48–50 (“Prayer for Relief”).)

The dispute between the NFL and the Players has a long and complex history. Powell v. NFL, 930 F.2d 1293, 1303 (8th Cir.1989). The present case dates in some respects back to the dispute resolved in Mackey v. National Football League, 543 F.2d 606 (8th Cir.1976). In Mackey, several players challenged the so-called “Rozelle Rule” as a violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. 543 F.2d at 609. In 1963, the League unilaterally adopted the Rozelle Rule, which governed free agency, largely by restricting it. Id. at 610–11. The League defended the Rule as protected from antitrust scrutiny under the nonstatutory labor exemption, which insulates employers and management from antitrust claims where an employer is participating in collective bargaining with a union that represents its employees. Id. at 611–12.

After a lengthy bench trial, the district court ruled that the Rozelle Rule was both a per se violation of Section 1 as well as an invalid restraint of trade under the Rule of Reason. Mackey v. NFL, 407 F.Supp. 1000 (D.Minn.1975).2 The Eighth Circuit affirmed based on the Rule of Reason. 543 F.2d at 620–21. In assessing the nonstatutory labor exemption, the Eighth Circuit found that the proper accommodation between the competing interests of the labor laws (which seek to facilitate collective action by employees) and the antitrust statutes (which seek to promote competition and limit collective action) required, in order for the exemption to apply, (1) that the restraint “primarily affects only the parties to the collective bargaining relationship,” (2) that the agreement subject to the protection of the exemption “concerns a mandatory subject of collective bargaining,” and (3) that the agreement “is the product of bona fide arm's-length bargaining.” Id. at 614. Although the particular agreement at issue there—the Rozelle Rule—satisfied the first two prongs of the test, the court found it was not the product of bona fide arm's-length bargaining. Id. at 615–16. The League later settled the class action for $13 million in damages.

“The players' initial antitrust victory was short lived, for following the ruling in Mackey the owners used their leverage in collective bargaining to reestablish the status quo, exchanging the Rozelle Rule for

[779 F.Supp.2d 999]

similar collectively bargained provisions that were impervious to antitrust attack.” White v. NFL, 585 F.3d 1129, 1134 (8th Cir.2009). The next major battle occurred in the various Powell/McNeil cases. In 1977, the League and the Players entered into a collective bargaining agreement governing free agency. The terms were modified in a successor agreement entered into in 1982. That agreement expired in August 1987. In September 1987, after negotiations for another agreement proved unsuccessful, the Players initiated a strike over veteran free agency and other issues.

After the strike failed to produce a new agreement, the Players filed an action in October 1987, contending that the League's adherence to the expired 1982 agreement violated the antitrust laws. In January 1988, the district court held that after the expiration of a bargaining agreement, the labor exemption from the antitrust laws terminates with respect to a mandatory subject of bargaining when employers and a union reach a bargaining impasse as to the contested issue. Powell v. Nat'l Football League, 678 F.Supp. 777, 788 (D.Minn.1988).

On November 1, 1989, the Eighth Circuit rejected the district court's 1988 ruling that impasse lifted the protection of the exemption from the antitrust laws, noting that in certain circumstances “the nonstatutory labor exemption may be invoked even after a collective bargaining agreement has expired.” Powell, 930 F.2d at 1301. The court concluded that the parties had “not yet reached the point in negotiations where it would be appropriate to permit an action under the Sherman Act,” explaining that “even after impasse” both a union and management retain certain rights and remain under certain legal obligations. Id. at 1302. The court held that, on the facts presented there, antitrust claims were not appropriate in light of the general labor policy that favors “negotiated settlements rather than intervention by the courts.” Id. at 1303.

Moreover, the court declined to “pick a termination point for the labor exemption.” Id. But, the court noted that “[i]mportantly, this does not entail that once a union and management enter into collective bargaining, management is forever exempt from the antitrust laws.” Id. Thus the Eighth Circuit expressly declined to “hold that restraints on player services can never offend the Sherman Act.” Id. The court then also noted that “[t]he League concedes that the Sherman Act could be found applicable, depending on the circumstances,” in certain situations including (as most relevant here) “if the affected employees ceased to be represented by a certified union.” Id. at 1303 n. 12.3

In the interim, the district court, having concluded that the impasse triggered the application of the antitrust laws, proceeded to hold, in July 1988, that the “presence of a bargaining impasse” nevertheless does not signify “the end of a ‘labor dispute’ ” so as to preclude the application of the Norris–LaGuardia Act's prohibition against injunctions in cases “ ‘involving or growing out of labor disputes.’ ” 690 F.Supp. 812, 814–15 (D.Minn.1988) (“Indeed, a bargaining

[779 F.Supp.2d 1000]

impasse is by definition a ‘labor dispute.’ ”). The court noted that “where the bargaining relationship and the collective bargaining process remains intact, a controversy regarding terms or conditions of employment constitutes a labor dispute.” Id. at 815.4

In the face of the Eighth Circuit's November 1989 ruling that a negotiating impasse did not permit the Players to pursue antitrust claims—and recognizing that the court did not identify any particular point when they could seek such relief—the Players faced a difficult choice between (1) continuing to engage in a collective bargaining process that had failed to accord them any true negotiating power, see Brown v. NFL, 50 F.3d 1041, 1057 (D.C.Cir.1995) (“We recognize that the history of bargaining between the NFL and the NFLPA, which includes a failed strike by the players during the 1987 season, has prompted some commentators to conclude that ‘[t]he union cannot effectively strike.’ ”), and (2) jettisoning the entire collective bargaining apparatus—and the rights and benefits it provided to them—in order to assert claims under the Sherman Act against the League. The Players elected to take the risk of the latter option and disclaimed the Union.

In 1990, eight individual players alleged that “Plan B”—a new proposed system of player restraints—constituted a violation of Section 1. The League again asserted the nonstatutory labor exemption. In May 1991, the district court granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, concluding that the exemption terminated where no “ongoing collective bargaining relationship” continued to exist because the union elected to dissolve itself....

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8 practice notes
  • Brady v. Nat'l Football League, No. 11–1898.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • July 8, 2011
    ...the NLRB, and that the League is in any event immune from antitrust liability under the nonstatutory labor exemption. See Brady v. NFL, 779 F.Supp.2d 992, 1042–43, No. 11–639, 2011 WL 1535240, at *37 (D.Minn. Apr. 25, 2011) [hereinafter Brady I ]. The court concluded that the Norris–LaGuard......
  • Nat'l Football League Players Ass'n v. Nat'l Football League, Civil Action No. 4:17–CV–00615
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • September 8, 2017
    ...F.Supp.2d 971, 982 (D. Minn. 2008) (" Williams ") (citing Jackson , 802 F.Supp. 226, 230–31 (D. Minn. 1992) ); Brady v. NFL , 779 F.Supp.2d 992, 1005 (D. Minn. 2011), rev'd on other grounds , 644 F.3d 661 (8th Cir. 2011) ; Prof'l Sports, Ltd. v. Va. Squires Basketball Club Ltd , 3......
  • Elite Rodeo Ass'n v. Prof'l Rodeo Cowboys Ass'n, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-03609-M
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • February 4, 2016
    ...concluded that lost playing time can constitute irreparable harm to professional athletes. See, e.g. , Brady v. Nat. Football League , 779 F.Supp.2d 992, 1035–36 (D.Minn.2011), abrogated on other grounds sub nom Brady v. Nat. Football League , (8th Cir.2011); Linseman v. World Hockey Ass'n ......
  • Nat'l Football League Players Ass'n ex rel. Elliott v. Nat'l Football League, Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-00615
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • September 18, 2017
    ...F. Supp. 2d 971, 982 (D. Minn. 2008) ("Williams") (citing Jackson, 802 F. Supp. 226, 230-31 (D. Minn. 1992)); Brady v. NFL, 779 F. Supp. 2d 992, 1005 (D. Minn. 2011), rev'd on other grounds, 644 F.3d 661 (8th Cir. 2011); Prof'l Sports, Ltd. v. Va. Squires Basketball Club Ltd, 373 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Brady v. Nat'l Football League, No. 11–1898.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • July 8, 2011
    ...the NLRB, and that the League is in any event immune from antitrust liability under the nonstatutory labor exemption. See Brady v. NFL, 779 F.Supp.2d 992, 1042–43, No. 11–639, 2011 WL 1535240, at *37 (D.Minn. Apr. 25, 2011) [hereinafter Brady I ]. The court concluded that the Norris–LaGuard......
  • Nat'l Football League Players Ass'n v. Nat'l Football League, Civil Action No. 4:17–CV–00615
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • September 8, 2017
    ..., 598 F.Supp.2d 971, 982 (D. Minn. 2008) (" Williams ") (citing Jackson , 802 F.Supp. 226, 230–31 (D. Minn. 1992) ); Brady v. NFL , 779 F.Supp.2d 992, 1005 (D. Minn. 2011), rev'd on other grounds , 644 F.3d 661 (8th Cir. 2011) ; Prof'l Sports, Ltd. v. Va. Squires Basketball Club Ltd , 373 F......
  • Elite Rodeo Ass'n v. Prof'l Rodeo Cowboys Ass'n, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-03609-M
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Texas
    • February 4, 2016
    ...concluded that lost playing time can constitute irreparable harm to professional athletes. See, e.g. , Brady v. Nat. Football League , 779 F.Supp.2d 992, 1035–36 (D.Minn.2011), abrogated on other grounds sub nom Brady v. Nat. Football League , (8th Cir.2011); Linseman v. World Hockey Ass'n ......
  • Nat'l Football League Players Ass'n ex rel. Elliott v. Nat'l Football League, Civil Action No. 4:17-CV-00615
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District Texas
    • September 18, 2017
    ...598 F. Supp. 2d 971, 982 (D. Minn. 2008) ("Williams") (citing Jackson, 802 F. Supp. 226, 230-31 (D. Minn. 1992)); Brady v. NFL, 779 F. Supp. 2d 992, 1005 (D. Minn. 2011), rev'd on other grounds, 644 F.3d 661 (8th Cir. 2011); Prof'l Sports, Ltd. v. Va. Squires Basketball Club Ltd, 373 F. Sup......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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