Judge orders end to NFL lockout
U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered an immediate end to the lockout Monday, siding with the players in their fight with the owners over how to divide the $9 billion business.
Nelson granted a request for a preliminary injunction to lift the seven-week lockout, saying she was swayed by the players’ argument that the NFL’s first work stoppage since 1987 is hurting their careers.
The 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,” Nelson wrote.
The NFL said it would ask Nelson to put her order on hold with a stay so it can pursue an expedited appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
“We believe that federal law bars injunctions in labor disputes,” the league said. “We are confident that the Eighth Circuit will agree. But we also believe that this dispute will inevitably end with a collective bargaining agreement, which would be in the best interests of players, clubs and fans. We can reach a fair agreement only if we continue negotiations toward that goal.”
Said Jim Quinn, an attorney for the players: “They better act quickly, because as of right now there’s no stay and, presumably, players could sign with teams. There are no guidelines as of right now, so they have to put something in place quickly.
“It is their league: They can put it whatever they decide. If they put in something not restrictive to the players and fair to the players, that is fine. If not, we will litigate.”
If the injunction is upheld, the NFL must resume business, although under what guidelines is uncertain.
Also, the NFL would need to determine what or if offseason workouts can be held while the appeal is being heard.
The NFL has even argued to Nelson that stopping the lockout would open all 32 teams up to additional antitrust claims simply for working together to solve the labor dispute. Antitrust claims carry triple damages for any harm proven, meaning hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake.
Owners imposed the lockout after talks broke down March 11 and the players disbanded their union. A group of players filed the injunction request along with a class-action antitrust lawsuit against the league.
Nelson heard arguments on the injunction at a hearing on April 6 and ordered the two sides to resume mediation while she was considering her decision. The owners and players, who failed to reach consensus after 16 days of mediated talks earlier this year, met over four days with a federal magistrate but did not announce any progress on solving the impasse.
They are not scheduled to meet again until May 16, four days after another judge holds a hearing on whether players should get damages in their related fight with owners over some $4 billion in broadcast revenue.
With appeals expected, the fight seems likely to drag on through the spring and, possibly, into the summer.
. The closer it gets to August, when training camps and the preseason get into full swing, the more likely it becomes that regular-season games will be lost.
The NFL is going forward with the draft, which begins Thursday night.
Dolphins alternate player representative John Denney said he didn’t think the ruling was the end of the dispute.
“Right now we got what we wanted, but it may be temporary,” he said. “We’ll have to let the judicial process play out.”