Brown v. Pro Football Inc., DBA Washington Redskins, 95388

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBreyer
Citation135 L.Ed.2d 521,518 U.S. 231,116 S.Ct. 2116
PartiesBROWN, et al. v. PRO FOOTBALL, INC., dba WASHINGTON REDSKINS, et al.
Docket Number95388
Decision Date20 June 1996

518 U.S. 231
116 S.Ct. 2116
135 L.Ed.2d 521

BROWN, et al.

v.

PRO FOOTBALL, INC., DBA WASHINGTON REDSKINS, et al.

Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
No. 95-388.
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued March 27, 1996
Decided June 20, 1996
Syllabus

After their collective-bargaining agreement expired, the National Football League (NFL), a group of football clubs, and the NFL Players Association, a labor union, began to negotiate a new contract. The NFL presented a plan that would permit each club to establish a "developmental squad" of substitute players, each of whom would be paid the same $1,000 weekly salary. The union disagreed, insisting that individual squad members should be free to negotiate their own salaries. When negotiations reached an impasse, the NFL unilaterally implemented the plan. A number of squad players brought this antitrust suit, claiming that the employers' agreement to pay them $1,000 per week restrained trade in violation of the Sherman Act. The District Court entered judgment for the players on a jury treble-damages award, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the owners were immune from antitrust liability under the federal labor laws.

Held: Federal labor laws shield from antitrust attack an agreement among several employers bargaining together to implement after impasse the terms of their last best good-faith wage offer. Pp. 3-18.

(a) This Court has previously found in the labor laws an implicit, "nonstatutory" antitrust exemption that applies where needed to make the collective-bargaining process work. See, e.g., Connell Constr. Co. v. Plumbers, 421 U. S. 616, 622. The practice here at issue-the postimpasse imposition of a proposed employment term concerning a mandatory subject of bargaining-is unobjectionable as a matter of labor law and policy, and, indeed, plays a significant role in the multiemployer collective-bargaining process that itself comprises an important part of the Nation's industrial relations system. Subjecting it to antitrust law would threaten to introduce instability and uncertainty into the collective-bargaining process, for antitrust often forbids or discourages the kinds of joint discussions and behavior that collective bargaining invites or requires. Moreover, if antitrust courts tried to evaluate particular kinds of employer understandings, there would be created a web of detailed rules spun by many different nonexpert antitrust judges and juries, not a set of labor rules enforced by a single expert body, the National Labor Relations Board, to which the labor laws give primary responsibility for policing collective bargaining. Thus, the implicit exemption applies in this case. Pp. 3-10.

(b) Petitioners' claim that the exemption applies only to labor-management agreements is rejected, since it is based on inapposite authority, and an exemption limited by petitioners' labor-management-consent principle could not work. Pp. 10-12.

(c) Also rejected is the Solicitor General's argument that the exemption should terminate at the point of impasse. His rationale, that employers are thereafter free as a matter of labor law to negotiate individual arrangements on an interim basis with the union, is not completely accurate. More importantly, the simple "impasse" line would not solve the basic problem that labor law permits employers, after impasse, to engage in considerable joint behavior, while uniform employer conduct-at least when accompanied by discussion-invites antitrust attack. Pp. 12-15.

(d) Petitioners' alternative rule, which would exempt from antitrust's reach postimpasse agreements about bargaining "tactics," but not those about substantive "terms," is unsatisfactory because it would require antitrust courts, insulated from the bargaining process, to delve into the amorphous subject of employers' subjective motives in order to determine whether the exemption applied. Pp. 15-16.

(e) Petitioners' arguments relating to general ``backdrop'' statutes and the ``special'' nature of professional sports are also rejected. Pp. 16-18.

(f) The antitrust exemption applies to the employer conduct at issue here, which took place during and immediately after a collective-bargaining negotiation; grew out of, and was a directly related to, the lawful operation of the bargaining process; involved a matter that the parties were required to negotiate collectively; and concerned only the parties to the collective-bargaining relationship. The Court's holding is not intended to insulate from antitrust review every joint imposition of terms by employers, for an employer agreement could be sufficiently distant in time and in circumstances from the bargaining process that a rule permitting antitrust intervention would not significantly interfere with that process. The Court need not decide in this case whether, or where, to draw the line, particularly since it does not have the detailed views of the Board on the matter. Pp. 18-19. 50 F. 3d 1041, affirmed.

Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

Justice Breyer delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case arises at the intersection of the Nation's labor and antitrust laws. A group of professional football players brought this antitrust suit against football club owners. The club owners had bargained with the players' union over a wage issue until they reached impasse. The owners then had agreed among themselves (but not with the union) to implement the terms of their own last best bargaining offer. The question before us is whether federal labor laws shield such an agreement from antitrust attack. We believe that they do. This Court has previously found in the labor laws an implicit antitrust exemption that applies where needed to make the collective-bargaining process work. Like the Court of Appeals, we conclude that this need makes the exemption applicable in this case.

I.

We can state the relevant facts briefly. In 1987, a collective-bargaining agreement between the National Football League (NFL), a group of football clubs, and the NFL Players Association, a labor union, expired. The NFL and the Players Association began to negotiate a new contract. In March 1989, during the negotiations, the NFL adopted Resolution G-2, a plan that would permit each club to establish a "developmental squad" of up to six rookie or "first-year" players who, as free agents, had failed to secure a position on a regular player roster. See App. 42. Squad members would play in practice games and sometimes in regular games as substitutes for injured players. Resolution G-2 provided that the club owners would pay all squad members the same weekly salary.

The next month, April, the NFL presented the developmental squad plan to the Players Association. The NFL proposed a squad player salary of $1,000 per week. The Players Association disagreed. It insisted that the club owners give developmental squad players benefits and protections similar to those provided regular players, and that they leave individual squad members free to negotiate their own salaries.

Two months later, in June, negotiations on the issue of developmental squad salaries reached an impasse. The NFL then unilaterally implemented the developmental squad program by distributing to the clubs a uniform contract that embodied the terms of Resolution G-2 and the $1,000 proposed weekly salary. The League advised club owners that paying developmental squad players more or less than $1,000 per week would result in disciplinary action, including the loss of draft choices.

In May 1990, 235 developmental squad players brought this antitrust suit against the League and its member clubs. The players claimed that their employers' agreement to pay them a $1,000 weekly salary violated the Sherman Act. See 15 U. S. C. Section(s) 1 (forbidding agreements in restraint of trade). The Federal District Court denied the employers' claim of exemption from the antitrust laws; it permitted the case to reach the jury; and it subsequently entered judgment on a jury treble-damage award that exceeded $30 million. The NFL and its member clubs appealed.

The Court of Appeals (by a split 2-to-1 vote) reversed. The majority interpreted the labor laws as "waiv[ing] antitrust liability for restraints on competition imposed through the collective-bargaining process, so long as such restraints operate primarily in a labor market characterized by collective bargaining." 50 F. 3d 1041, 1056 (CADC 1995). The Court held, consequently, that the club owners were immune from antitrust liability. We granted certiorari to review that determination. Although we do not interpret the exemption as broadly as did the Appeals Court, we nonetheless find the exemption applicable, and we affirm that Court's immunity conclusion.

II.

The immunity before us rests upon what this Court has called the "nonstatutory" labor exemption from the antitrust laws. Connell Constr. Co. v. Plumbers, 421 U. S. 616, 622 (1975); see also Meat Cutters v. Jewel Tea Co., 381 U. S. 676 (1965); Mine Workers v. Pennington, 381 U. S. 657 (1965). The Court has implied this exemption from federal labor statutes, which set forth a national labor policy favoring free and private collective bargaining, see 29 U. S. C. Section(s) 151; Teamsters v. Oliver, 358 U. S. 283, 295 (1959); which require good-faith bargaining over wages, hours...

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97 practice notes
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • 20 de março de 2009
    ...behavior or the participants within a particular substantive area. See Credit Suisse, 127 S.Ct. at 2389; Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231, 242, 116 S.Ct. 2116, 135 L.Ed.2d 521 (1996) (federal labor laws); Gordon, 422 U.S. at 682, 95 S.Ct. 2598 (Securities and Exchange Act of 1934);......
  • Int'l Longshore & Warehouse Union & Pac. Mar. Ass'n v. Ictsi Or., Inc., Case No. 3:12–cv–01058–SI.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
    • 24 de março de 2014
    ...for judicial antitrust-related determinations as to the appropriate legal limits of industrial conflict.” Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231, 236–37, 116 S.Ct. 2116, 135 L.Ed.2d 521 (1996). “ ‘[S]ome restraints on competition imposed through the bargaining process must be shielded fr......
  • California ex rel. Lockyer v. Safeway, Inc., No. CV 04-0687 GHK SSX.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • 25 de maio de 2005
    ...favoring collective bargaining, and require good-faith bargaining over wages, hours and working conditions. Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231, 236, 116 S.Ct. 2116, 135 L.Ed.2d 521 (1996).4 Moreover, "[m]ultiemployer bargaining itself is a well-established, important, pervasive metho......
  • Vanguard Operating, LLC v. Sublette Cnty. Treasurer (In re Vanguard Nat. Res., LLC), CASE NO: 17-30560
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fifth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Southern District of Texas
    • 14 de janeiro de 2020
    ...in question." (Case No. 18-03244; ECF No. 31 at 16 (emphasis added) (citing United States v. Reorganized CF & I Fabricators of Utah, Inc., 518 U.S. 231, 220 (1996))). In essence, Vanguard argues that in determining what a penalty is under § 547(a)(4), the Court must look beyond the label pr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
88 cases
  • Churchill Downs v. Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, Civil Action No. 3:08-CV-225-H.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • 20 de março de 2009
    ...behavior or the participants within a particular substantive area. See Credit Suisse, 127 S.Ct. at 2389; Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231, 242, 116 S.Ct. 2116, 135 L.Ed.2d 521 (1996) (federal labor laws); Gordon, 422 U.S. at 682, 95 S.Ct. 2598 (Securities and Exchange Act of 1934);......
  • Int'l Longshore & Warehouse Union & Pac. Mar. Ass'n v. Ictsi Or., Inc., Case No. 3:12–cv–01058–SI.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Oregon)
    • 24 de março de 2014
    ...for judicial antitrust-related determinations as to the appropriate legal limits of industrial conflict.” Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231, 236–37, 116 S.Ct. 2116, 135 L.Ed.2d 521 (1996). “ ‘[S]ome restraints on competition imposed through the bargaining process must be shielded fr......
  • California ex rel. Lockyer v. Safeway, Inc., No. CV 04-0687 GHK SSX.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
    • 25 de maio de 2005
    ...favoring collective bargaining, and require good-faith bargaining over wages, hours and working conditions. Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231, 236, 116 S.Ct. 2116, 135 L.Ed.2d 521 (1996).4 Moreover, "[m]ultiemployer bargaining itself is a well-established, important, pervasive metho......
  • Vanguard Operating, LLC v. Sublette Cnty. Treasurer (In re Vanguard Nat. Res., LLC), CASE NO: 17-30560
    • United States
    • United States Bankruptcy Courts. Fifth Circuit. U.S. Bankruptcy Court — Southern District of Texas
    • 14 de janeiro de 2020
    ...in question." (Case No. 18-03244; ECF No. 31 at 16 (emphasis added) (citing United States v. Reorganized CF & I Fabricators of Utah, Inc., 518 U.S. 231, 220 (1996))). In essence, Vanguard argues that in determining what a penalty is under § 547(a)(4), the Court must look beyond the label pr......
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9 books & journal articles
  • ANTITRUST VIOLATIONS
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
    • 1 de julho de 2021
    ...language of the Sherman Act, courts have consistently held that Congress 1. 15 U.S.C. §§ 1–7. 2. See Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231, 252 (1996) (“The basic premise underlying the Sherman Act is the assumption that free competition among business entities will produce the best pri......
  • The Roberts Court and Supreme Court's New Antitrust Law for the Global Knowledge and Entrepreneurial Economy in a “Perfect Storm” of Danger—And Opportunity
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    • Antitrust Bulletin Nbr. 54-1, March 2009
    • 1 de março de 2009
    ...NYNEX Corp. v. Discon, Inc., 525 U.S. 128 1998 9-0 Breyer13 State Oil v. Khan, 523 U.S. 3 1997 9-0 O’Conno r14 Brown v. Pro Football, Inc, 518 U.S. 231 1996 8-1 Breyer15 Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. California, 509 U.S. 764 1993 9-0 Souter15 Brooke Group, Ltd. v. Brown & Williamson TobaccoCorp......
  • WHATEVER DID HAPPEN TO THE ANTITRUST MOVEMENT?
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    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 94 Nbr. 2, December 2018
    • 1 de dezembro de 2018
    ...case. United States v. Lucasfilm, Inc., No. 10-cv-02220, 2011 WL 2636850 (D.D.C. June 3, 2011). (288) E.g., Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231 (1996) (sustaining multiemployer union contract involving NFL team owners); see IB AREEDA & HOVENKAMP, supra note 62, [paragraph] (289) E......
  • ANTITRUST HARM AND CAUSATION.
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    • Washington University Law Review Vol. 99 Nbr. 3, February 2022
    • 1 de fevereiro de 2022
    ...29 U.S.C. [section] 141 et seq. See Hovenkamp, Labor Conspiracies, supra note 149, at 928,929, 962. (153.) Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., 518 U.S. 231 (1996) (extending labor antitrust immunity to agreement among multiple NFL team owners involved in a multi-employer collective bargaining unit......
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