A New York federal judge has dissolved a temporary restraining order and ruled the National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) failed to establish a Dallas Cowboys running back’s controversial six-game suspension was fundamentally unfair. In the case, National Football League (“NFL”) commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Ezekiel Elliott after Elliott was accused of domestic violence against his former girlfriend. Although Elliott was not charged with a crime by police, Goodell issued the suspension following an independent NFL investigation.
In response to the lengthy suspension, Elliott sought an appeal before an arbitrator pursuant to the terms of the National Football League Players Association’s (“NFLPA”) Collective Bargaining Agreement. During a three-day arbitration proceeding, the arbitrator considered Goodell’s decision to suspend Elliott using an “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review. In addition, the arbitrator denied the NFLPA’s request that both Goodell and Elliott’s accuser be compelled to offer testimony. Elliott’s six-game suspension was ultimately upheld by the arbitrator.
Next, the NFLPA sought an injunction in a Texas federal court by claiming Elliott was not provided with a fundamentally fair hearing. Although the Eastern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction, the Fifth Circuit overturned the district court’s opinion based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Meanwhile, the NFL sought to confirm the arbitrator’s decision in the Southern District of New York. Last week, the New York Court granted a 14-day temporary restraining order pending a hearing in the case.
On Monday, United States District Court Judge Katherine P. Failla issued an opinion regarding the NFLPA’s motion for a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the six-game suspension. In the opinion, Judge Failla cited the Second Circuit’s 2016 decision related to Tom Brady’s suspension following the so-called “Deflategate” controversy:
In Brady II, the Second Circuit, while reviewing an arbitration award that affirmed the suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, rejected arguments similar to those here and ordered confirmation of the arbitration award. See 820 F.3d at 532.
After that, Judge Failla ultimately held:
The NFLPA’s argument for a preliminary injunction largely relies on the proposition that the “fundamental fairness” standard found in the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) applies with equal force to judicial review of arbitral awards under the LMRA. (See NFLPA Br. 18-25). The NFLPA argues that, under this standard, it is entitled to a preliminary injunction because it is likely to prevail on the merits or, alternatively, that it raises a serious question going to the merits and the balance of hardships tips in its favor. (See id. at 18). Under scrutiny, neither of these conclusions holds water, and because the NFLPA fails to establish a serious question going the merits, it follows a fortiori that it cannot establish a likelihood of success on the merits. The NFLPA similarly fails to show that Elliott will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of injunctive relief or that the public interest favors an injunction. The Court therefore declines to issue a preliminary injunction.
Judge Failla stayed enforcement of the order for 24 hours to allow the NFLPA to consider appellate review before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.