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LEWIS v. NFL

November 3, 1992

ALBERT LEWIS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROYCE C. LAMBERTH

MEMORANDUM OPINION

 (Denying Dismissal, Transfer, or Stay)

 This matter comes before the court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or Transfer or, in the Alternative, for a Stay ("Defendants' Motion"); Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or Transfer or, in the Alternative, for a Stay of this Action ("Plaintiffs' Opposition"); Defendants' Reply Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss, Transfer, or Stay ("Defendants' Reply"); Plaintiffs' Surreply in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or Transfer or, in the Alternative, for a Stay of this Action ("Plaintiffs' Surreply"); and Defendants' Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, Transfer, or Stay ("Defendants' Supplement"). Upon consideration of the representations of counsel, and for the reasons presented below, it is hereby ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss or Transfer or, in the Alternative, for a Stay is DENIED.

 I. FACTS.

 This case, as amended, was filed in October 1991 by three professional football players against the National Football League and its twenty-eight member teams. The plaintiffs claim damages under the anti-trust laws arising out of the NFL's "Plan B" right of first refusal/compensation system during the 1989 NFL season. *fn1" The plaintiffs have since filed a motion for class certification on behalf of all players *fn2" who were subject to Plan B during the 1989 season.

 This case is one of several cases between football players and the NFL that either have recently been litigated or are currently pending. The first case of recent vintage was filed in the District Court for Minnesota in October 1987. Powell v. National Football League, Civ. No. 4-87-917 (D. Minn.). In that case, nine football players filed a class action lawsuit challenging the first refusal/compensation system then in effect. The NFL claimed that a nonstatutory labor exemption to the antitrust laws applied. U.S. District Judge David Doty agreed in part, holding that the exemption applied to the player/NFL relationship, but only until negotiations between the NFL and the players reached an impasse as to the particular issue in question.

 The nonstatutory labor exemption issue was certified to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court held that the exemption applied as long as the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) served as the players' collective bargaining representative. Powell v. NFL, 930 F.2d 1293 (8th Cir. 1989), cert. den'd, 111 S. Ct. 711 (1991). In light of this decision, the NFLPA relinquished its role as the players' collective bargaining representative on November 6, 1991, thus terminating the parties' labor relationship.

 Thereafter, eight players filed suit against the NFL, in the District Court for New Jersey, seeking damages under Plan B for the 1990 NFL season. McNeil v. NFL, Civ. Action No. 90-1402 (D.N.J.). *fn3" On motion by the NFL, the case was transferred to Judge Doty in Minnesota. A trial jury recently found against the defendants, and damages were awarded to four of the eight plaintiffs.

 Meanwhile, Judge Doty decertified the class in Powell, on remand from the Eighth Circuit, and dismissed without prejudice the claims of the class members based upon the 1989 season. *fn4"

 Finally, on October 15, 1991, the NFL filed a declaratory judgment action in the District Court for Minnesota against three Minnesota-resident football players and the NFLPA. NFL v. NFLPA and Hilton, Civ. No. 3-91-635 (D. Minn.). The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that the NFL bears no anti-trust liability for the first refusal/compensation restriction as applied during the 1989 season. On October 17, 1991, the three named plaintiffs in this suit brought this action against the NFL and its twenty-eight member teams, their claim being that the NFL's application of the first refusal/compensation system in 1989 violated the anti-trust laws.

 Defendants have now filed this motion to dismiss, transfer, or stay plaintiffs' action.

 II. DEFENDANTS' ARGUMENTS.

 In defendants' view, the basis for this motion is "relatively simple": pending litigation in the District Court for Minnesota and the Eighth Circuit render plaintiffs' suit in this forum duplicative, thus justifying a dismissal, transfer, or stay of the present action. Defendants' Reply at 1.

 Defendants' first argument is that the present action, as an "exact duplicate" of the first-filed Hilton case, should be dismissed. Defendants' Motion at 8. Defendants claim that the central legal issues raised in this case are "virtually identical" to those in Hilton (at least if the court accepts defendants' claim that the current plaintiffs' claims for damages would be compulsory counterclaims in the Minnesota declaratory judgement action), and thus that "dismissal of this action will not preclude plaintiffs from fully litigating their damage claims." Defendants' Motion at 9.

 In the alternative, defendants claim that this case should be transferred under 28 U.S.C. § 1404 (a) to the District Court for Minnesota, "a court that has related cases pending before it and has developed substantial expertise on the subject." Defendants' Motion at 9. Such a transfer would, it is claimed, further the "interest of justice," 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), since 1) there is an identical case, Hilton, already filed in Minnesota; 2) pending litigation in Minnesota and the Eighth Circuit might moot this case; and 3) Judge Doty has already handled "an entire family of related cases," Defendants' Motion at 11, and in so doing has acquired "considerable expertise." Defendants claim that these justifications support transfer and consolidation of this case with Hilton, and that transfer would satisfy the "fundamental statutory goals" of 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) -- the conservation of time and resources and consistent adjudications -- without causing plaintiffs any significant inconvenience. As evidence of the reasonableness of this determination, the defendants rely heavily on U.S. District Judge Bissell's decision to transfer McNeil v. NFL from New Jersey to Minnesota.

 Finally, defendants' third alternative is to have this court stay this case pending the decisions of the District Court for Minnesota in Hilton and McNeil and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Powell.

 III. ANALYSIS.

 The defendants' arguments raise several issues of federal civil procedure and federal jurisdiction. However, the simple conclusion defendants would have this court reach are not justified by the facts. Rather, the equitable factors which must support defendants' motion under both the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a) instead weigh in favor of allowing this ...


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