NFL Lockout Lifted: Excerpts From Judge Nelson's 80+ Page Ruling

I've been pouring over Judge Nelson 80 page ruling and needless to say there's some interesting stuff in there. First, here's the money quote that really sums the the decision up.

"The Brady Plaintiffs have made a strong showing that allowing the League to continue their "lockout" is presently inflicting, and will continue to inflict, irreparable harm upon them, particularly when weighed against the lack of any real injury that would be imposed on the NFL by issuing the preliminary injunction"

Just to refresh, the players' claim was that the lockout was causing them irreparable harm because it prevented them from signing free agent contracts, working out at team facilities, talking with coaches and generally doing all the important stuff that a player does in the offseason. Clearly Nelson agreed.

However, the NFL's argument wasn't really that the players were wrong here, it was that Judge Nelson shouldn't be hearing the case in the first place. Their contention was that a federal court doesn't have proper jurisdiction in the case and that it should be referred to the National Labor Relations board. This is what they're going to to appeal to the 8th circuit.

She disagreed and addressed that argument in her ruling.

Without quoting the entire 10 or so page section where she discusses her reasoning, it boils down to this. Courts have "primary jurisdiction" in some cases and agencies (such as the NLRB or SEC) have "exclusive statutory jurisdiction." The NFL cited cases that they believed prove that the agency, in this case the National Labor Relations Board, has "exclusive statutory jurisdiction" over this case and therefore the court should have referred it to that agency.

The doctrine of "primary jurisdiction" exists in cases where the court could potentially be unqualified to offer a ruling on the matter. It gives them the option of sending the case to agency with an expertise in the issue at hand. However, it does mean that if "primary jurisdiction" exists in a case, that the court must refer the issue to an agency. This seems to be the basis for Judge Nelson's rejection of the NFL's argument. She felt like there was no need to cause further delay by seeking the NLRB's opinion.

The minimal, if any, benefit that might be derived from seeking the NLRB’s expertise here is clearly outweighed by the delay involved, particularly where the players are incurring ongoing irreparable harm.

She also says that the Eighth Circuit court, which the NFL is going to appeal this case to, has specifically ruled that the court should apply this doctrine of primary jurisdiction "sparingly."

The Eighth Circuit has repeatedly cautioned that the doctrine is to be invoked sparingly, however, as staying the
case while the agency addresses or resolves the particular issue within its expertise usually entails substantial delay

The basis of the owners' complaint to the NLRB is that the player's de-certification was a "sham" and negotiating tactic, therefore it should not be recognized. The only reason they were able to file the case they did is because they de-certified. She not only rejects the owners' claim, but also says that she thinks the NLRB will do the same.

Employees have the right not only to organize as a union but also to refrain from such representation and, as relevant here, to "de-unionize."

Although the NFL has filed a charge here, the NLRB has yet to issue any complaint and, in this Court’s considered judgment, it is likely that the Board will dismiss the charge.

There's no doubt that this is a fairly strong rebuke of the NFL's position. Unless the 8th circuit court has a significantly different interpretation of federal law governing "primary jurisdiction" it would seem unlikely that they will say she ruled incorrectly upon appeal.

It doesn't necessarily mean they won't hear an appeal on the matter.... But her arguments seem to be on very solid legal ground.

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