Breaking News: Analysis of Judge Susan Nelson’s Opinion Ruling for Players
The long-awaited decision by Judge Susan Nelson in the case of Brady v. NFL in United States District Court for the District of Minnesota was just issued.
Judge Nelson ruled for the players, effectively blocking the lockout. Judge Nelson also did not issue a stay, meaning the injunction would go into effect immediately.
The NFL is expected to appeal the decision to not issue a stay tomorrow in the 8th Circuit.
Judge Nelson’s opinion is 89 pages and is available to download here: http://widerights.com/download/Brady_vs_NFL_D.C.Opinion.pdf
I’ll try to give a more thorough analysis of the ruling as soon as possible.
[Update and Analysis:]
If you’re interested in the juicy part of the opinion, as opposed to the portion resolving the issues of jurisdiction, skip ahead to page 68, Part B. “A Preliminary Injunction Under Rule 65 Is Necessary To Prevent The Irreparable Harm To the Players”.
The players sought to keep the NFL from locking them out. This sort of remedy is called an injunction.
In Section B, Judge Nelson writes, “A preliminary injunction ‘is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as a matter of right.’”
To get the injunction, the court would first consider two main factors: (1) the players had to show that they would risk “irreparable harm” without injunction and (2) that they have a chance of success on the merits.
Then, the court would also consider two additional factors prior to issuing the injunction: (3) the balance of the harm at issue and (4) how an injunction would harm other litigants and the public interest.
As to factor 1, Judge Nelson writes on page 71, “the Brady Plaintiffs have shown not only that they likely would suffer irreparable harm absent the preliminary injunction, but that they are in fact suffering such harm now.”
The NFL tried to argue that any damage the players are suffering is monetary, and thus, injunctive relief is an improper remedy. The court rejected those arguments. The court recognized that while much of the harm is financial at its core, “[t]he existence of irreparable injury is underscored by the undisputed brevity and precariousness of the players’ careers in professional sports, particularly in the NFL.”
The detail of finding “irreparable harm” in the NFL context is impressive in this case:
- The court recognized that lost playing time is a part of irreparable harm.
- The court also noted that due to the complexity of determine each individual player’s salary would lead to a nightmare in trying to accurately grant a financial remedy.
- The court recognized that the harm is particular whether the player is a free agent, rookie, or under-contract player, and especially those players that became restricted free agents when the NFL opted out of the collective bargaining agreement (when they would have been unrestricted otherwise).
As to factor 2, on page 80, Judge Nelson writes for the section header, “The Irreparable Harm To The Players Outweighs Any Harm An Injunction Would Cause the NFL.”
The league argued that the injunction would end up destroying the competitive balance of the NFL because the “most favorably suited teams” (aka the Cowboys) would be able to sign the best players. Judge Nelson rejects this argument as well.
Lastly, the Judge, on page 81, that the players have established a fair chance of success on the merits and, on page 87, that the public interest does not favor a lockout.
I love this bit by the Judge on the “public interest”:
“And, of course, the public interest represented by the fans of professional football–who have a strong investment in the 2011 season–is an intangible interest that weighs against the lockout.”