In the four-page ruling that punted the lawsuit filed Wednesday by the NFLPA to New York City, where the NFL had filed its own lawsuit a day earlier, Judge Richard H. Kyle pulled no punches.
“The Court strongly suspects the Union filed in Minnesota because it has obtained favorable rulings from this Court in the past on behalf of its members,” Judge Richard H. Kyle wrote. “Indeed, the Union makes only a fleeting attempt to justify venuing this action in Minnesota, noting in two sentences of its 160-paragraph Petition that legal issues raised in the underlying arbitration ‘were directly related to’ legal issues addressed in the action disposed of by Judge Doty in February (concerning Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson). . . . However, the Court fails to appreciate how legal issues resolved in Peterson justify bringing this action here when it enjoys no other connection to Minnesota. Indeed, carried to its logical conclusion, accepting the Union’s premise would mean that a court that had decided, for example, a large corporation had engaged in racial discrimination would be the appropriate venue for every future racial-discrimination case against that corporation, no matter where the employee was located or where the alleged discrimination had occurred. Venue simply cannot be predicated on such a thin reed.”
In English, this means that a case involving an employee who works in Massachusetts shouldn’t be filed in Minnesota, absent some other connection between Minnesota and the lawsuit.
Of course, Minnesota likely would have been an acceptable location for the lawsuit but for the fact that the NFL won the race to the courthouse. Actually, the NFL at one point preferred Minnesota as the jurisdiction for such cases, because the federal appeals court the governs Minnesota (the Eight Circuit) once issued a favorable ruling for the NFL in an antitrust case. It was so favorable that the Freeman McNeil litigation challenging Plan B free agency was filed in New Jersey, but the case was transferred back to Minnesota at (you guessed it) the NFL’s behest.
Minnesota then became the default location for antitrust litigation, given the favorable outcomes that the NFLPA and the players obtained there. With Judge Doty finding earlier this year that the NFL tried to suspend Peterson without proper notice of a change in the applicable rules, and with the NFLPA believing similar notice principles apply to Brady, it makes sense for the NFLPA to choose Minnesota.
It also makes sense for the NFL to not choose Minnesota, taking full advantage of Roger Goodell’s dual role as Commissioner and Arbitrator to get a head start on getting the case filed anywhere other than Minnesota.
So, yes, the NFLPA was forum shopping. And, yes, the NFL was forum shopping. And, yes, any lawyer worth his or her license considers all potentially available forums for filing a lawsuit and tries to shop for the best possible one.