The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROYCE C. LAMBERTH
This case is a putative class action in which eleven professional football players
are suing the National Football League (NFL) and its twenty-eight member teams for anti-trust violations. The plaintiffs seek to represent a class of all professional football players who received less than their contract-based salary during the past several preseasons (due to the NFL's policy of paying all players a fixed salary during the preseason rather than their contract-based salary) and then were unable to make up the difference during the regular season because they were cut.
After plaintiffs filed suit, the NFL filed a counterclaim in which it sought to certify a defendants' class of all players who received non-contractual benefits under the NFL's attested policy of following the CBA even after it expired in 1987. The counterclaim alleges that thousands of football players are liable for recoupment or restitution to their teams for such benefits as extra-contractual preseason compensation, post-season bonuses, and termination benefits. The court has not ruled on either plaintiffs' or defendants' motion for class certification.
During the last six years, various groups of players, often supported by the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), have brought several lawsuits against the NFL, all challenging aspects of the NFL's player selection, retention, and compensation practices. Much of that litigation has been focused in this court, where three cases have been filed; even more has centered around the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota and U.S. District Judge David Doty.
Over the past several months, the NFL and its players have been attempting to resolve their employment disputes by combining a new collective bargaining agreement with the resolution of most of the NFL player litigation. That global settlement is being coordinated by Judge Doty.
Until recently, this case, filed on behalf of the eleven named plaintiffs by counsel Joseph A. Yablonski of the firm Yablonski, Both & Edelman, was not part of the negotiations for the global settlement. However, both the NFL and the representatives of the players have asserted, both before Judge Doty and orally in open court here,
that this case must be included in the global settlement if the settlement is to be achieved. The representation of the players in the settlement negotiations is headed by attorney James W. Quinn of the firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
In late January, three of the named plaintiffs
asked Mr. Yablonski to withdraw his appearance on their behalf; Mr. Yablonski thus moved this court to withdraw his firm's appearance and the court granted his motion. Mr. Quinn has entered his appearance on behalf of the three plaintiffs.
The court held a status conference on January 27, 1993, and has received briefs from both the defendants and the plaintiffs represented by Mr. Yablonski. Upon consideration of the representations of the parties, and for the reasons stated below, the court grants defendants' motion.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), the court is empowered to transfer a case if to do so would be "in the interest of justice." The court finds that transferring this case meets this standard.
The NFL and its players have been unable to reach an employment agreement since the CBA expired in 1987. During that time, the parties have been involved in numerous lawsuits - in which plaintiffs have been only partially successful - that have used up a significant quantity of resources, both judicial and private. And, due to the nature of American litigation and appellate processes, the court anticipates that, absent a settlement, the trend will continue for years to come.
The global settlement currently before Judge Doty will remedy this situation by not only resolving most of the litigation resulting from Plan B and the CBA, but also by removing the need for further litigation. The court finds it in the interests of judicial economy to support this effort. It is pointless to keep separate two highly related cases at this time.
The plaintiffs represented by Mr. Yablonski make several arguments against transferring this case. Each of these arguments may have significant merit, and the court acknowledges that Judge Doty will have to address each of these issues in order to ensure that the settlement afforded to the members of the ...