Where NFL-NFLPA labor fight stands after Eighth Circuit briefs filed (May 27)

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (C) enters a federal courthouse to resume talks regarding labor and revenue issues between the NFL and the NFL Players Association in Minneapolis, May 16, 2011. REUTERS/Eric Miller (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL EMPLOYMENT BUSINESS)

Another week has gone by with no on-field football action as the NFL lockout and subsquent legal battle stretches into its third month. The only activity was in the Eighth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals as both the players and the NFL have filed briefs in advance of the June 3 hearing on Judge Susan Nelson’s decision to end the lockout and force the NFL’s doors open for business.

The lengthy briefs give a basis for each side’s case, which will be presented in front of the three-judge panel of Duane BentonSteven Colloton (who ruled for the NFL owners in the 2-1 decision to grant a permanent stay of Nelson’s order through this appeal process) and Kermit Bye (who sided with the players). Each side will have 30 minutes to present, so the briefs expound on the points that will be made.

In order of the filings, we take a look first at the players’ side, filed to the Eighth Circuit on May 20.

Players Eighth Circuit Brief 5-20-11
Players Eighth Circuit Brief Addendum 5-20-11

Their summary argument headers (full text is available in the attached PDFs):

I. The Norris-LaGuardia Act does not preclude the District Court from enjoining the NFL’s illegal group boycott.

A. The Norris-LaGuardia Act is inapplicable because this case does not “involve or grow out of a labor dispute.”

1. The term “labor dispute” encompasses only disputes involving organized labor.
2. A case cannot “grow out of” a labor dispute that no longer exists.

B. The District Court’s injunction fully complies with the Norris-LaGuardia Act.

1. Section 4(a) does not encompass lockouts.
2. The injunction complies With Section 7 of the Norris-LaGuardia Act.

II. The implied labor exemption to the antitrust laws does not protect the NFL’s boycott.

A. The non-statutory labor exemption does not apply where there is no collective-barganaing relationship.
B. The lockout does not concern a “mandatory subject of barganing.”

III. The District Court did not abuse its discretion in declining to stay this litigation under the Primary-Jurisdiction Doctrine.

A. The NFL misstates the standard for applying the Primary-Jurisdiction Doctrine.
B. The District Court and this Court have institutional competence and capability to decide this case.

1. There is no reasonable argument that the NFLPA’s disclaimer Was a “sham.”
2. The NFL waived any argument that the disclaimer was a “sham.”

C. Any conceivable benefit from obtaining the NLRB’s views is far outweighed by the delay involved.

IV. The remaining preliminary-injuction factors strongly support the injuction.

A. The group boycott is causing the players irreparable harm “now.”
B. The NFL has not demonstrated irreparable harm from the injunction.
C. The public interest supports the injuction.

The NFL filed its brief to the Eighth Circuit on May 26.

NFL Eighth Circuit Brief 5-26-11

Their summary argument headers (full text is available in the attached PDF):

I. The District Court lacked jurisdiction to enjoin the lockout.

A. The case involves or grows out of a labor dispute.

1. The NFL and the players remain involved in a labor dispute.
2. At the very least, this case grows out of a labor dispute.

B. Section 4(a) bars injunctions against lockouts.
C. At a minimum, Section 7 bars the injunction.

II. The District Court’s order inved the primary jurisdiction of the NLRB.

A. This case presents an issue within the Board’s primary jurisdiction.
B. Plantiffs’ waiver argument lacks merit.

III. The nonstatutory labor exemption bars Plantiffs’ antitrust claims.

A. Plantiffs misread and misstate Brown.
B. The exemption applies to a lockout.
C. Plantiffs fail to address Powell.

IV. The equitable factors cannot justify an injunction here.

If you are a legal scholar, or if you are fascinated with the case as an NFL fan, there is plenty in the briefs to pour through. Other sports leagues and their player unions are closely looking at the case as a blueprint for future labor battles, especially the NBA, which is rumored to lock out their players after its CBA expires in June.

Meanwhile, the effects of the lockout reverberate throughout the NFL as clubs have instituted salary reductions and furloughs to their employees (coaches/front office staff. The most-complete list (as of May 27) of those actions can be found here.

The other effect is on 2011 training camps run at university and college sites. Last season, 16 clubs held camp away (14 at schools; two in cities at non-school facilities) from their home bases, but a late resolution to the labor battle, plus college classes going back in session in August could force those clubs to move camp back to their facilities and secure local hotel accommodations for players at camp (Atlanta is the lone exception with on-facility apartment-style housing).

The New York Jets, according to NFL.com’s Albert Breer, have a July 1 deadline to notify SUNY-Cortland in New York if they will hold their camp there this year. Cincinnati has a deadline of July 15 to notify Georgetown College in Kentucky (with financial considerations to the college if the Bengals don’t hold camp there), according to Cincinnati.com. Buffalo faces a late-June deadline to decide on whether to go to St. John Fisher College, according to ESPN.com. Baltimore’s contract with McDaniel College expired after last season, and even though the sides were working on an extension, the club could hold camp at their facility and move some workouts to M&T Bank Stadium, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Those deadlines might pose a problem as the Eighth Circuit is not expected to rule on the appeal by the NFL owners in the District Court decision by Judge Nelson until late June.

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