Nat'l Football League Players Ass'n ex rel. Elliott v. Nat'l Football League, 17-40936.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation874 F.3d 222
Docket NumberNo. 17-40936.,17-40936.
Parties NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE PLAYERS ASSOCIATION, agent of on its own behalf and on behalf of Ezekiel Elliott, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE; National Football League Management Council, Defendants–Appellants.
Decision Date12 October 2017

874 F.3d 222

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE PLAYERS ASSOCIATION, agent of on its own behalf and on behalf of Ezekiel Elliott, Plaintiff–Appellee,
v.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE; National Football League Management Council, Defendants–Appellants.

No. 17-40936.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.

Filed October 12, 2017


Jeffrey L. Kessler, Jonathan J. Amoona, David Louis Greenspan, Angela A. Smedley, Winston & Strawn, L.L.P., New York, NY, David Folsom, Esq., Jackson Walker, L.L.P., Texarkana, TX, Steffen Nathanael Johnson, Esq., Winston & Strawn, L.L.P., Washington, DC, Thomas M. Melsheimer, Winston & Strawn, L.L.P., Dallas, TX, David T. Moran, Jackson Walker, L.L.P., Dallas, TX, Rebekah Ricketts, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, L.L.P., Dallas, TX, Andrew S. Tulumello, Senior Litigation Attorney, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, L.L.P., Washington, DC, for Plaintiff-Appellee

Paul D. Clement, Subash S. Iyer, Michael Dallas Lieberman, Erin Murphy, Kirkland & Ellis, L.L.P., Washington, DC, John Eric Gambrell, Patrick G. O'Brien, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, L.L.P., Dallas, TX, Daniel L. Nash, Nathan Joshua Oleson, Pratik A. Shah, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, L.L.P., Washington, DC, for Defendants-Appellants

Before PRADO, ELROD, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM:

On August 31, 2017, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) filed a complaint in the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas on behalf of Ezekiel Elliott, a running back for the Dallas Cowboys, seeking a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of a forthcoming six-game suspension by the National Football League (NFL) and the National Football League Management Council. Elliott and the NFL had been engaged in the arbitration process following an investigation resulting from domestic violence allegations against Elliott. After reviewing the investigation report and underlying evidence, Rodger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, determined the domestic violence allegations were substantiated and that Elliott should be suspended for six games. Under the collective bargaining agreement between the

874 F.3d 225

NFLPA and the NFL, a player has the right to contest before an arbitrator a player discipline determination by the league. Elliott invoked that right and Harold Henderson, a former NFL executive, presided over the August 29–31, 2017 arbitration hearing. When the NFLPA filed this lawsuit and moved for a preliminary injunction on August 31, 2017, Henderson had indicated a decision was forthcoming, but had not yet issued the decision.

On September 5, 2017, the district court held a preliminary injunction hearing. That same day, the arbitrator issued his decision upholding the NFL's six-game suspension of Elliott. On September 8, 2017, the district court enjoined the NFL from enforcing Elliott's six-game suspension. The NFL moved this court for a stay of the district court's injunction on September 15, 2017. We VACATE the district court's preliminary injunction and REMAND to the district court with instructions to dismiss the case.

The NFL contends the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185, to issue the preliminary injunction.1 While preliminary injunctions are generally reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard, de novo review is appropriate where "a district court's ruling rests solely on a premise as to the applicable rule of law" and the applicable facts are established or of no controlling relevance. United Offshore Co. v. S. Deepwater Pipeline Co., 899 F.2d 405, 407 (5th Cir. 1990). On appeal, a court may also examine the basis for jurisdiction sua sponte . Simon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. , 193 F.3d 848, 850 (5th Cir. 1999). When courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over a case, they lack the power to adjudicate the case. Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison , 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998). Thus, we must examine jurisdiction whenever subject matter jurisdiction appears "fairly in doubt." See Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 671, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). Questions of subject matter jurisdiction cannot be forfeited or waived and are reviewed de novo . Hous. Refining, L.P. v. United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Mfg. , 765 F.3d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 2014).2 "[T]he jurisdiction of the court depends upon the state of things at the time of the action brought." Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Glob. Grp. L.P. , 541 U.S. 567, 570, 124 S.Ct. 1920, 158 L.Ed.2d 866 (2004).

Under the LMRA, a lawsuit for violations between an employer and a labor organization must satisfy the following three elements: "(1) a claim of violation of (2) a contract (3) between an employer and a labor organization." Carpenters Local Union No. 1846 of United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners of Am., AFL-CIO v. Pratt-Farnsworth , 690 F.2d 489, 500 (5th Cir. 1982) ; 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). The NFLPA argues that because Elliott has stated a claim that satisfies these three elements, the district court was vested with jurisdiction

874 F.3d 226

over this case. In response, the NFL argues that jurisdiction only vests under the LMRA if Elliott exhausts his contractual remedies and that the lack of a final arbitral decision at the time of filing the complaint is a fatal jurisdictional defect.3

It has long been established that "federal labor policy requires that individual employees wishing to assert contract grievances must attempt use of the contract grievance procedure agreed upon by employer and union as the mode of redress." Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox , 379 U.S. 650, 652, 85 S.Ct. 614, 13 L.Ed.2d 580 (1965). "If a grievance procedure cannot be made exclusive, it loses much of its desirability as a method of settlement." Id. at 653, 85 S.Ct. 614. The "grievance and arbitration procedures are part and parcel of the ongoing process of collective bargaining." United Paperworkers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, Inc. , 484 U.S. 29, 38, 108 S.Ct. 364, 98 L.Ed.2d 286 (1987).

Outside of limited circumstances, the failure to "fully exhaust [ ]" contracted for "grievance procedures" places an employee's claim for breach of a collective bargaining agreement beyond "judicial review." Vaca v. Sipes , 386 U.S. 171, 184–85, 87 S.Ct. 903, 17 L.Ed.2d 842 (1967) (discussing situations where an "employee may obtain judicial review of his breach-of-contract claim despite his failure to secure relief through the contractual remedial procedures"). While courts have jurisdiction to enforce collective bargaining contracts, "where the contract provides grievance and arbitration procedures, those procedures must first be exhausted and courts must order resort to the private settlement mechanisms without dealing with the merits of the dispute." Misco , 484 U.S. at 37, 108 S.Ct. 364. Our circuit holds that federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction "to decide cases alleging violations of a collective bargaining agreement ... by an employee against his employer unless the employee has exhausted contractual procedures for redress." Meredith v. La. Fed'n of Teachers , 209 F.3d 398, 402 (5th Cir. 2000).

The NFLPA argues, following the Supreme Court's decision in Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp. , 546 U.S. 500, 510–11, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006), that Meredith is no longer good law and exhaustion should not be considered as an issue of subject matter jurisdiction. Arbaugh addressed when the term "jurisdiction" is properly utilized. 546 U.S. at 510, 126 S.Ct. 1235. The Court stated at times the term had been applied to procedural requirements that "are not properly typed ‘jurisdictional.’ " Id. Particularly in the "subject-matter jurisdiction/ingredient-of-claim-for-relief dichotomy," the Court stated that it, among other courts, "ha[d] been less than meticulous" in the use of the label. Id. At issue in Arbaugh was whether the threshold number of employees for the application of Title VII to an employee's claim was an element of a claim for relief or a jurisdictional issue. Id. at 516, 126 S.Ct. 1235. The Court held that because Congress had not ranked the statutory limitation on coverage in Title VII as jurisdictional, "courts should treat the restriction as nonjurisdictional." Id. The Court further clarified in

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Henderson ex rel. Henderson v. Shinseki , 562 U.S. 428, 435, 131 S.Ct. 1197, 179 L.Ed.2d 159 (2011), "that a rule should not be referred to as jurisdictional unless it governs a court's adjudicatory capacity, that is, its subject-matter or personal jurisdiction." Claims-processing rules, which are rules "requiring that a party take certain procedural steps at certain specified times," are not jurisdictional—even if mandatory—unless Congress clearly indicated the rule was "jurisdictional." Id. at 435–46, 131 S.Ct. 1197. However, the Court held there were no "magic words" Congress needed to invoke and if there was "a long line of this Court's decisions left undisturbed by Congress" treating a requirement as jurisdictional, the Court would "presume that Congress intended to follow that course." Id. at 436, 131 S.Ct. 1197.

As discussed above, the Supreme Court has long treated the exhaustion of grievance procedures provided for in collective bargaining agreements as jurisdictional. See Vaca , 386 U.S. at 184–85, 87 S.Ct....

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