Last year, former Browns receiver Joe Jurevicius sued the team for the staph infection he contracted after routine knee surgery in January 2008.
We pointed out at the time the possibility that the Collective Bargaining Agreement supersedes the claims made against the Browns.
The Browns removed the case from Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court to federal court, based on the contention that all of the theories are preempted by the CBA. Basically, the Browns believed that the entire case should be thrown out, given the presence of a CBA.
Today, Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr. ruled that only two of the theories asserted by Jurevicius are preempted. Judge Oliver found that the rest of the claims may proceed, and he sent the case back to state court.
A league source has provided us with a copy of the 30-page opinion drafted by Judge Oliver. (And I read the whole thing. And then I wrote this after I woke up.)
The analysis focused generally on whether resolution of each claim requires interpretation of the terms of the CBA. If so, federal law governs the outcome. If the claim arises separate and apart from the CBA, the claims may proceed in court.
Judge Oliver ruled that the following claims made by Jurevicius are not preempted by the CBA, and sent them to Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court: (1) negligent failure to warn players regarding potentially hazardous conditions at the training facility; (2) negligent failure to undertake proper precautions to remove and/or prevent the spread of staph; (3) negligent misrepresentation regarding whether prior incidents of staph infection had been contracted at the training facility; (4) fraudulent misrepresentation that proper procedures were in place to prevent staph infection at the training facility; (5) intentional exposure of employees to a dangerous condition about which the employer was aware; and (6) deliberate misrepresentation of the presence of a toxic or hazardous substance as creating a rebuttable presumption of intent.
Judge Oliver found that two claims could not proceed in court: (1) constructive fraud; (2) breach of fiduciary duty.
In English, Jurevicius has scored a major victory. He’ll be permitted to pursue in state court legal theories based on the notion that the Browns knew or should have known that there was a problem in its training facility regarding staph infections, that the team failed to cure it, and that the team otherwise adopted an “all is well” posture in order to keep players from choosing not to join the team or wanting to leave it.
The ruling doesn’t mean that Jurevicius has proven these things; it means he’ll have a chance to do so. Which means that the Browns will have to spend a lot of time and money dealing with the litigation — and that its mere existence will be an ongoing reminder to players of a dark period in the franchise’s history.
The other reality is that the decision of the Browns to actively defend the case could prompt current and prospective players to wonder whether, when push comes to shove, the Browns will do the right thing. Meanwhile, as the case unfolds evidence could emerge to support a finding that the Browns knew damn well about the problem and failed to properly deal with it.
The fact that Jurevicius was a local kid who finally got a chance to play for his hometown team doesn’t make the situation any better for the franchise.
Best bet for the Browns? Settle the case quickly and quietly and move on.