Carcillo v. Nat'l Hockey League

Decision Date29 March 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 19 CV 6156
Citation529 F.Supp.3d 768
Parties Daniel CARCILLO and Nicholas Boynton, Plaintiffs, v. NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE and National Hockey League Board of Governors, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Christopher J. Haugen, Terrance J. Wagener, Messerli & Kramer P.A., Minneapolis, MN, Richard R. Gordon, Gordon Law Offices, Ltd., Thomas a. Demetrio, William T. Gibbs, Corboy & Demetrio, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs.

Aaron Daniel Van Oort, Joseph M. Price, Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, Linda Susan Svitak, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Minneapolis, MN, Adam M. Lupion, Pro Hac Vice, Joseph Baumgarten, Pro Hac Vice, Andrew a. Smith, Pro Hac Vice, Proskauer Rose LLP, James A. Keyte, Matthew M. Martino, Pro Hac Vice, Shepard Goldfein, Michael H. Menitove, Pro Hac Vice, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, New York, NY, Daniel J. Connolly, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Mpls, MN, Jessica Davidson Miller, John H. Beisner, Pro Hac Vice, Skadden, Aprs, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Washington, DC, Gregory S. Bailey, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, LLP, Chicago, IL, for Defendant National Hockey League.

Adam M. Lupion, Pro Hac Vice, Joseph Baumgarten, Pro Hac Vice, Andrew a. Smith, Pro Hac Vice, Proskauer Rose LLP, Matthew M. Martino, Pro Hac Vice, Shepard Goldfein, Michael H. Menitove, Pro Hac Vice, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, New York, NY, John H. Beisner, Pro Hac Vice, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Washington, DC, Gregory S. Bailey, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, LLP, Chicago, IL, for Defendant National Hockey League Board of Governors.


John Robert Blakey, United States District Judge

Plaintiffs Daniel Carcillo and Nicholas Boynton, retired professional hockey players, sue the National Hockey League (NHL) and its Board of Governors, claiming that Defendants have caused them injuries from their years of playing. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants promoted fighting in the sport, failed to warn them of the risks of suffering repeated head traumas

, and misrepresented and concealed those risks to Plaintiffs’ detriment. Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act completely preempts Plaintiffs’ state-law claims. [48]. For the reasons explained below, this Court finds that Section 301 preempts certain portions of Plaintiffs’ claims and dismisses those claims without prejudice as premature. This Court also declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining portions of Plaintiffs’ state-law claims.

I. Background
A. The Complaint's Allegations
1. The Parties

Defendant NHL operates a professional ice hockey league comprising 31 franchised member clubs. [1] at ¶ 1. Defendant NHL Board of Governors serves as the NHL's governing body and establishes its policies. Id. at ¶ 2.

Plaintiff Daniel Carcillo is a former professional hockey player who played a total of 429 games in the NHL for the Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks. Id. at ¶ 10. During his NHL career, Carcillo participated in regular season games as well as hundreds of pre-season games, training camp practices, pre-season and post-season practices, and morning skates. Id. at ¶ 17. Carcillo claims that he was involved in 149 hockey fights throughout the course of his NHL career and has suffered multiple serious head traumas

. Id. at ¶¶ 12–13.

Like Carcillo, Plaintiff Nicholas Boynton used to play hockey professionally, playing a total of 605 NHL games for the Boston Bruins, Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Philadelphia Flyers. Id. at ¶ 15. Boynton participated in numerous pre-season games, practices, and morning skates. Id. at ¶ 16. He claims that he was involved in 51 hockey fights during his NHL career and, like Carcillo, he alleges he has suffered multiple serious head traumas

throughout that career. Id. at ¶¶ 17–18.

2. Allegations of Violence

Plaintiffs claim that, for nearly a century, the NHL has developed and promoted a "culture of gratuitous violence" by permitting and promoting fighting, despite knowing that brain traumas

resulting from fighting can lead to permanent brain injury and related symptoms. Id. at ¶¶ 30–32, 46.

For instance, in 1975, NHL players proposed the imposition of an automatic suspension for the balance of the game in which a fight occurred. Id. at ¶ 35. The NHL rejected that proposal. Id. The NHL continued to promote fighting throughout the 1980s and, according to Plaintiff, has referred to that decade as "The Golden Era of Fighting," where the league averaged approximately one fight for every game played. Id. at ¶ 37. Plaintiffs allege that the NHL refused to ban fighting, and in the 1990s and 2000s, its prevalence continued; during these decades, the league held "staged fights" nearly every night. Id. at ¶ 41.

B. The Collective Bargaining Agreements

Because Defendants’ motion implicates this Court's subject matter jurisdiction, Defendants have submitted extrinsic evidence in the form of an unrebutted declaration by Julie Grand, the NHL's Deputy General Counsel. [50]. Grand states that both Carcillo and Boynton were subject to collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) between the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), the exclusive collective bargaining representative for NHL players. Id. at ¶ 2. According to Grand, three separate CBAs were in effect during the dates Plaintiffs played in the NHL: one in effect between January 13, 1995 through September 15, 2004 (the 1995 CBA); another in effect between July 22, 2005 and September 15, 2012 (the 2005 CBA); and the last that has been in effect since September 16, 2012 (the 2012 CBA). Id.

All three CBAs state:

30.2 League Playing Rules. Each player shall be bound by the League's Playing Rules to the extent that such rules are not in conflict with provisions of this Agreement....
30.3 Amendments. The NHL and its Clubs shall not, during the term of this Agreement or any extension thereof, amend or modify the provisions (or portions thereof) of the League Rules or any of the League's Playing Rules in existence on the date of this Agreement which affect terms or conditions of employment of any Player, without the prior written consent of the NHLPA which shall not be unreasonably withheld.

[50-1] at 101; [50-2] at 146; [50-3] at 191.

Additionally, each CBA contains provisions directed at player injuries. The 2005 and 2012 CBAs state that any "determination that a Player is eligible to be placed on the Injured Reserve List, or designated as Injured Non-Roster, shall be made by the Club's physician in accordance with the Club's medical standards and documented." [50-2] at 105; [50-3] at 125. The 1995 CBA similarly stated that all "determinations that a player has suffered a major injury must be made by the Club's medical staff in accordance with the Club's medical standards." [50-1] at 78. All three CBAs expressly delegated the responsibility for making "fitness-to-play" determinations to each club's physicians. Id. at 105; [50-2] at 265–66; [50-3] at 333–34.

Both the 2005 and 2012 CBAs also provide each player with the right to obtain a second medical opinion in the event he disagreed with a club physician's opinion as to his fitness to play. [50-2] at 109; [50-3] at 132. The 1995 CBA further provides for a review of a player's fitness to play by an independent medical specialist if he disagrees with the club physician's determination. [50-1] at 105. The 2005 and 2012 CBAs also require that each club conduct an annual exit physical at the end of each NHL season, document "all injuries that may require future medical or dental treatment either in the near future or post-career," and provide each player with a complete copy of his medical records following each season. [50-2] at 129; [50-3] at 174.

C. The Parties’ Pleadings and Procedural History

Plaintiffs bring three sets of state-law claims. In Counts I and II, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants"negligence and conscious disregard" for their safety increased the number of concussive and/or sub-concussive blows they sustained during their NHL careers, causing significant long-term degenerative brain damage. Id. at ¶¶ 49–64.

Counts III and IV assert "failure to warn" claims, alleging that Defendants breached their common law duties to: inform them of the increased risk of developing long-term brain disease

and neurocognitive impairments; ensure the rapid and accurate diagnoses of their brain injuries ; implement policies or procedures designed to prevent Plaintiffs from returning to a game or practice after sustaining a head injury ; and regulate and monitor practices, games, equipment, and medical care to minimize the long-term damage Plaintiffs ultimately sustained. Id. at ¶¶ 65–86.

Finally, Counts V and VI allege that Defendants deliberately concealed and misrepresented material facts and information from Plaintiffs regarding the risks of developing brain damage from fighting. Id. at ¶¶ 87–102.

Defendants answered the complaint, denying all allegations and asserting a number of affirmative defenses, including that federal law preempts Plaintiff's claims due to "applicable collective bargaining agreements governing the terms and conditions" of their employment as NHL players. [14] at Third Defense.

Plaintiffs initially filed suit in June 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota as part of multidistrict litigation proceedings (MDL) under the caption In re Nat'l Hockey Players’ Concussion Injury Litig. , MDL Case No. 0:14-md-2551-SRN-BRT. [1]; [43] at 2. About a year later, the parties jointly moved to transfer venue. [17]. The Minnesota district court granted that motion in September 2019, and thereafter transferred the case to this Court. Id.

Defendants have now moved to dismiss the complaint on the basis that Section 301 of...

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