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Goodell files motion to dismiss Vilma’s defamation suit

Roger Goodell AP

To no surprise, Commissioner Roger Goodell has responded to the defamation lawsuit filed against him by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma with a request that the case be kicked out of court.

As expected, Goodell contends that the claims against him are pre-empted by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.  The argument, essentially, is that if Vilma has a gripe with Goodell, he needs to take it up with an arbitrator under the CBA.

Goodell also claims that Vilma’s lawsuit fails to specifically allege that the Commissioner made false statements regarding Vilma with “actual malice,” the standard for defamation claims made by public figures,” and that Vilma’s suit doesn’t allege that Goodell engaged in “outrageous” conduct, a prerequisite for a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Finally, Goodell contends that Louisiana’s “Anti-SLAPP” law limits the defamation claim, based on Goodell’s right to engage in free speech on matters of public importance.  (The statute allows the discovery process to be delayed until the plaintiff can prove a probability of success.)

The claim that the CBA trumps the individual claims represents the strongest argument in Goodell’s arsenal.  Vilma’s challenge will be to prove that the theories reflect individual rights existing independent of the labor deal.

It won’t be easy.  Membership in a union entails the sacrifice of a worker’s rights to sue.  If an individual employee has a gripe, it typically must be made within the confines of the grievance procedures available under the CBA.

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51 Responses to “Goodell files motion to dismiss Vilma’s defamation suit”
  1. dryzzt23 says: Jul 5, 2012 1:23 PM

    Roger Roger come on now. Vilma has filed a frivolous lawsuit, there is no doubt about that but you need to hit him where it hurts.
    You (the NFL) should sue Vilma for defamation, this will force Vilma to pay for lawyers to defend him. I doubt he lasts long while paying 2 legal teams at the same time in the offseason.
    If the players can sue the NFL on a whim, the NFL can return fire.

  2. winskins says: Jul 5, 2012 1:26 PM

    It’s not the National Football League any more. It’s the National Feeding-trough for Lawyers.

  3. champ1118 says: Jul 5, 2012 1:27 PM

    I just really don’t care anymore!! The Redskins and Cowboys aren’t getting their money back, and Vilma you’re suspended. Now just go ahead and sit down somewhere!!

  4. samapoc says: Jul 5, 2012 1:33 PM

    It’s not that difficult to make a prima facia case here. Goodell says something as fact that isn’t. Vilma’s was defamed. Whether the evidence is strong, I’m going to guess that this motion is denied…without explanation for Drew.

  5. ygkr85 says: Jul 5, 2012 1:35 PM

    Lawyered.

    But seriously, no need for the courts here. Fully disclose evidence, meet in-person, reduce suspensions accordingly and move on.

    Football is awesome and dangerous, we get it. Saints went a little too far, everyone knows it.

  6. thegreatgabbert says: Jul 5, 2012 1:35 PM

    The motion with which The Raj dismissed the suit was an almost imperceptible nod of his head. Nothing more was needed.

  7. parttimer1 says: Jul 5, 2012 1:37 PM

    Lawyers, the cause and solution to most of our problems. Florio, you used to be a lawyer once right. Do you remember the 1st amendment, or is that just for reporters?

  8. bearsman says: Jul 5, 2012 1:38 PM

    Unions, not lawyers are the ones ruining this game. Unions were useful in the early 1900’s. Now they are slowly destroying the businesses of this country and now are doing it to the NFL. De Smith is a moron!

  9. gingerkid2000 says: Jul 5, 2012 1:40 PM

    Ummmm this is what a lot of people have been saying about this lawsuit all along. I’m always surprised when an attorney-gone-sports-writer needs this kind of stuff spelled out for them. But since it’s Florio I’ll make an exception.

  10. j0esixpack says: Jul 5, 2012 1:41 PM

    Regardless of what power the CBA does or doesn’t grant to Goodell – doesn’t he have an obligation to afford players due process under law?

    And if the judge finds that he’s abused his power and denied due process, shouldn’t THAT be the compelling factor?

  11. golonger says: Jul 5, 2012 1:42 PM

    I’d like to file a motion to dismiss Goodell!!!!!

  12. EJ says: Jul 5, 2012 1:48 PM

    NFL- National Funding of Lawyers

  13. dexterismyhero says: Jul 5, 2012 1:51 PM

    I bet if the Saints had put bounties on the lawyers and DES, he would’ve let that slide……smh

  14. mgfred says: Jul 5, 2012 1:52 PM

    You may not like Goodell actions, but he’s the guy keeping Congress out of the NFL… Try having a football league with the government interfering, we would be all wishing we had Goodell calling the shots..

  15. bucsnsincity says: Jul 5, 2012 2:01 PM

    Funny vilma and the rest of the players are fighting this but yet Gregg Williams the man accused of orchestrating this whole thing isn’t anywhere to be seen.

  16. truthfactory says: Jul 5, 2012 2:08 PM

    I feel like I know where this is heading…

    Vilma to Goodell: You made stuff up about me, Im going to sue you.

    Goodell to Vilma: You cant sue me, Ill sue you for trying to sue me!

    Vilma back to Goodell: There is a clause in our CBA that says you cant sue me, so Im going to sue you for threatining to sue me for suing you!

    Goodell to Vilma: That clause was waived when you sued me first, so Im suing you for trying to sue me for trying to sue you for suing me!

    (And so on it will go until each sides lawyers are filthy rich)

  17. geauxjay says: Jul 5, 2012 2:09 PM

    If this whole scandal was a poker game, Goodell would scream “I HAVE A FULL HOUSE!” and grab the pot. Then everyone else at the table would say “Wait! Show it to us.” Then Goodell reaches into his hand, shows them a 4, and says “NOW GIVE ME MY MONEY.”

  18. southcakpanther says: Jul 5, 2012 2:15 PM

    That a boy, Roger.

  19. bigball1 says: Jul 5, 2012 2:16 PM

    The real problem here is that this process is a mess. The way Goodell handled this is a huge problem even if he is found to be within his power to do what he has done. The comments of the CBA giving him the RIGHT to arbitrarily hand out suppensions without having to prove anything does not mean it should be done…
    Goodell has made this adversarial from the beginning and quite frankly that is NOT good for anybody. This will fuel distrust and labor friction well into the future.
    I’m not sure he really could have handled this worse….even though he my have the right and power to do so!

  20. buzzardpointlookout says: Jul 5, 2012 2:18 PM

    How many days until training camps open?

    This legal business is like getting beaten to death with a pencil. Let’s just get the season rolling.

  21. geauxjay says: Jul 5, 2012 2:20 PM

    Doesn’t “actual malice” require that Goodell knew or at least strongly suspected that the accusations against Vilma were false, but he made them anyway?

    And if Vilma can prove that Cerullo, the centerpiece of the case, retracted his statement and Goodell went through with it anyway, wouldn’t that qualify?

  22. billsfan27 says: Jul 5, 2012 2:21 PM

    In reality, won’t this simply come down to Goodell and the NFL outspending Vilma in court?

    Money talks, and usually wins.

  23. vetdana says: Jul 5, 2012 2:25 PM

    Defamation is very hard to prove in Court.We don’t have “actual Malice ” or “Outrageous Conduct”,which is necessary to move forward.But the biggest problem is, as Goodell states,” that the CBA trumps an individual claim”.Think of the precedent that is set if the Unions Grievance Procedures ARE trumped and the case moves forward.Every time a player disagrees with a decision, he files a civil suit in hopes of gaining a reduction or reversal.This would happen in all Pro Sports.A host of legal suits could follow including a challenge of the sports Anti-trust exemption!…..This motion is NOT going to go anywhere….Period !

  24. drdonkey says: Jul 5, 2012 2:27 PM

    Someone get Fred Davis on Vilmas speed dial, he seems to know his way around the court room!

  25. saintsfan26 says: Jul 5, 2012 2:30 PM

    If Goodell would’ve been fair and not try to act like the second coming of Adolf Hitler, then he wouldnt be in this mess. This is just the beginning, Roger. Keep trying to act like you are God, and you will continue to lose all respect from players and fans. This is America bro, that type of sh-t dont fly around here.

  26. saints4evah says: Jul 5, 2012 2:31 PM

    Goodell took too much power while the entire NFLPA was worried about money…this was bad lawyering from the beginning.

  27. jjbadd says: Jul 5, 2012 2:34 PM

    I’m not even saying what should or should not happen in the Vilma case, but 1 thing is certain. Goodell does not need sole power to decide on issues. It is ABSOLUTELY unfair, & anyone who feels differently probably is comfortable with communism or dictators. There are too many scenarios, and the NFL has too much interest in itself to have 1 man deciding everything. I’m actually rooting for Vilma for that reason.

  28. drexelvol says: Jul 5, 2012 2:36 PM

    I’m no lawyer, but I don’t understand how a CBA means that Goodell can trump the law and publicly slander and defame a player.

    I’m not saying he did or didn’t in to Vilma, but that’s what this is case is showing.

  29. thingamajig says: Jul 5, 2012 2:39 PM

    If what Vilma and his lawyer thinks overules a written and agreed upon process then they just may have a chance at winning.

  30. jrmbadger says: Jul 5, 2012 3:13 PM

    If Goodell had handled this differently, this wouldn’t be a problem.

    First, the CBA was enacted prior to Goodell’s latest and greatest overreaching with the bounty scandal. Previous to that, the biggest gripe was the inconsistent fines that were levied. The stakes seem much higher with this. I can understand how the player’s wouldn’t have been as concerned with this aspect as other aspects – Goodell hadn’t abused his power all that much (although Steelers fans might disagree).

    Second, just because the CBA gives Goodell the RIGHT to be the judge, jury, and executioner, does not mean he HAS to.

    A better leader would have stepped back and had an independent arbiter handle the appeals. Had that been the case, the player’s lawsuits would have gone nowhere.

    As it stands now, I think the players have a chance at winning. For all intents and purposes, it seems the league convinced itself of the player’s guilt and then moved forward with that premise throughout all stages.

    AND…. for the fans of teams that aren’t implicated – you should still care. Ask yourself – if your favorite player were suspended for 1/2 the year or longer on such flimsy evidence, would you care?

  31. silentcount says: Jul 5, 2012 3:15 PM

    If Goodell makes the harshest accusations and levies the most severe punishments in the history of the NFL, then the proof should be able to stand up in a court of law. If he doesn’t understand that, then he truly is drunk from his own power. If Vilma was guilty, then he knows there’d be plenty of witnesses to testify in a court. If he was innocent, he knows there had to be someone who lied to Goodell. Taking it to court is the only option he has to prove “I didn’t do it.”

  32. seller1717 says: Jul 5, 2012 3:20 PM

    I am sick of the “Since Greg Williams and Sean Payton are staying quiet, so it must be true” argument. For those who feel this way, understand that Williams wants back in the league at some point and Goodell is the key to that happening. It would be foolish of him to go against Goodell. He is a smart man and will keep his mouth shut. The same for Payton. There is no guarantee that after he serves his year suspension he is automatically back in. He still has to go through Goodell to be reinstated. Goodell made a debacle out of this. He went overboard on the punishment plain and simple. Had he been a little more reasonable from the start this would have blown over by now.

  33. treesloth16 says: Jul 5, 2012 3:27 PM

    This is defamation on Goodells part. He says that Vilma did malicious things, and is punishing him. Goodell did this through the public. However, he did not provide meaningful evidence to Vilma nor the public. Vilma is suing because he believes the evidence does not prove anything and paints a negative picture of him to the public. So he is suing the NFL/Goodell. Why should Vilma ‘take it like a man’ if he believes Goodell is doing this out of spite?

    If you were Vilma, you’d do the same thing.

    What if this were the 1960s and a private school prohibited a black student from attending class? Will you argue that this is a private school, thus this is not our business?

  34. eyeh8goodell says: Jul 5, 2012 3:35 PM

    Sorry Goodell, but pro football is simply an entertainment product and is in no way shape or form a “matter of public importance”. I know you like to act like the NFL is the United Nations or something but it’s just an entertainment product…..much like the WWE.

  35. packhawk04 says: Jul 5, 2012 3:42 PM

    Nobody should have sympathy for the players if goodell has complete authority over these matters. They negotiated a cba, and signed off on it.

  36. thcnote says: Jul 5, 2012 3:45 PM

    saintsfan26 says:
    Jul 5, 2012 2:30 PM
    If Goodell would’ve been fair and not try to act like the second coming of Adolf Hitler, then he wouldnt be in this mess. This is just the beginning, Roger. Keep trying to act like you are God, and you will continue to lose all respect from players and fans. This is America bro, that type of sh-t dont fly around here.
    ———–
    If the players and coaches wouldn’t have lied from the beginning this would have never happened. Shut up Saints fans.

  37. dryzzt23 says: Jul 5, 2012 3:59 PM

    The players lied in the first place, if they had come clean early and ratted out their coaches then they wouldn’t be in this mess.

  38. eyeh8goodell says: Jul 5, 2012 4:00 PM

    @packhawk04

    The CBA doesn’t give Goodell the right to defame people. He is still as accountable to the laws of our society as anybody else. So no, the players did NOT sign off on Goodell being above the law.

  39. seller1717 says: Jul 5, 2012 4:00 PM

    saintsfan26 says:
    If the players and coaches wouldn’t have lied from the beginning this would have never happened. Shut up Saints fans.

    dude do you really think it’s only Saints fans that are calling BS? If Goodell would have handed NE the same punishment as NO got, i would be calling BS on that too. They got a slap on the wrist and it blew over rather quickly. the lesson was learned and we all moved on. The punishment handed down to the Saints was incredibly over the top.

  40. 3octaveFart says: Jul 5, 2012 4:09 PM

    “Goodell also claims that Vilma’s lawsuit fails to specifically allege that the Commissioner made false statements regarding Vilma with “actual malice,””

    ..in much the same way that Vilma claims that Goodell acted without any actual evidence…

  41. jakek2 says: Jul 5, 2012 4:09 PM

    Goodell’s motion will be denied.

    1) Defamation is an intentional tort. Logically, these aren’t covered by CBA agreements otherwise bosses would sexually harass their union employees. The CBA argument is a loser.

    2) Goodell’s claim that he did not act with actual malice or commit outrageous conduct is not for a judge to decide in the beginning stage of a lawsuit on a motion to dismiss. Those are issues to be resolved on motion for summary judgment and/or are best left for the trier of fact (jury).

    3) Anti-Slapp – I actually think is Goodell’s strongest defense. However, I’m not sure concussions suffered by athletes making 10s of millions of dollars is a “matter of public importance”.

  42. jchuber says: Jul 5, 2012 4:16 PM

    The players always receive cruel punishment, and no mercy for the smallest infractions. (ie uniform infractions ) Management influences the entire franchise and gets a comparitible slap on the wrist. How can the GM with oversight responsible get 6 months suspension, while a player gets a full year? You call that justice?

    King godell needs to go!!!!!!!

  43. flaccotoboldin says: Jul 5, 2012 4:21 PM

    seller1717:

    Actually, they lost a higher draft pick than you and drew large fines.

    The difference is, the league hadn’t told bellichick multiple times to knock it off. They discovered it, and then destroyed all the evidence for the “good” of the league. And the Pats cooperated because they knew they were boned.

  44. hitwithafade says: Jul 5, 2012 4:34 PM

    only money keeps congress out of anything…you think Durbin was around for Pita chips and hummus last week?

  45. sdisme says: Jul 5, 2012 5:20 PM

    I’ll say it again, and every chance I get…

    Fair penalties and this would have all been over by the draft.

  46. baddorange says: Jul 5, 2012 5:24 PM

    You brought the NFL to its golden days. Go away as you now will hasten he arrival of its going down the dumper. Ax him before its too late.

  47. samapoc says: Jul 5, 2012 5:26 PM

    It should be easy for Vilma to at least get this to court, considering the amount of posturing Goodell has done in the media. What I don’t understand is that Goodell had to know where this was going from the start. So why do it this way, with lame “evidence” and seemingly false accusations??

  48. gtodriver says: Jul 5, 2012 7:12 PM

    samapoc says:

    “It should be easy for Vilma to at least get this to court…”

    It may be easy for him to get it to court, but the question is, can he prevail – even in the Louisiana court.

    If he makes it through the court system in Lousiana, the appeals court will kick it to the curb.

    He’s just wasting the NFLPA’s money with all this legal wrangling.

  49. bucs13 says: Jul 5, 2012 7:27 PM

    “What if this were the 1960s and a private school prohibited a black student from attending class? Will you argue that this is a private school, thus this is not our business?”

    I recommend learning the law, or watching the Masters. (As a side note, the intersection between private groups and discrimination is complex, but is statutory.)

    Also, re: jakek2:
    1. No. Just because it’s an intentional tort, doesn’t mean that it isn’t covered by the CBA. If the defamation claims are necessarily arising from conduct within the CBA, it will be preempted. I think it’s a pretty strong argument.

    2. This is just wrong. The First Amendment protection is there expressly to get these issues away from a jury, and they are often dealt with on a motion to dismiss (and occasionally summary judgment). It is *extremely, extremely* rare for a public figure/matter of public concern defamation case to get to a jury.

    3. You misunderstand what “matter of public importance” means.

  50. jjbadd says: Jul 5, 2012 11:07 PM

    My very 1st assessment & opinion of this whole situation seems to be absolutely right. It’s very simple. It’s nothin more than a possible pay for performance amongst players, for hard but legal playing, that got blown way out of proportion! Maybe they got a couple grand for a sack, or int, or forced fumble, etc. That’s no big deal, & I stick to my opinion that it likely happens on many other teams! Now the problem is, Goodell probably realizes its not as serious as he thought, but feels he is past the point of no return! I don’t care for tha Saints, I’ve always like my Broncos..but I’ll always know that the Saints players, & coaches got crapped on by Goodell because he ain’t man enough to admit he overreacted. Also, anyone that has been keeping up with this, & believes Goodell is capable of being fair, is very mistaken! He used certain evidence to suspend Vilma, then admits his evidence against Vilma was evidence at all, yet doesn’t make any change! That is just corrupt! I hope Vilma and the other few Saints win any & everything they can against dictator Goodell! Common sense tells you that its not fair to pick a certain few out of an entire team tha is presumed to be involved, & punish just the few!

  51. mwindle1973 says: Jul 5, 2012 11:08 PM

    3octaveFart says: Jul 5, 2012 4:09 PM

    “Goodell also claims that Vilma’s lawsuit fails to specifically allege that the Commissioner made false statements regarding Vilma with “actual malice,””

    ..in much the same way that Vilma claims that Goodell acted without any actual evidence…
    _____________________

    Don’t you realize that you can’t sue someone for defamation and not specifically allege how they specifically acted to do this with malice. The with malice part, is the biggest key to a defamation suit.

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