As it turns out, Wednesday’s ruling from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office could be the least problematic litigation outcome for the NFL.
Per a league source, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has overturned a decision by Judge David Doty dismissing the NFLPA’s effort to claim collusion against the NFL made in the wake of the salary-cap penalties imposed on Dallas and Washington in 2012.
The case is now expected to proceed to the discovery process, which will force the NFL to disclose information about whether and to what extent teams were told to treat the uncapped year of 2010 under the prior labor deal as something other than, you know, an uncapped year.
That was the gist of the $46 million in cap penalties. Dallas and Washington were penalized for contracts in the uncapped year that nevertheless complied with the language of the CBA and that nevertheless were approved at the time by the NFL.
The league argued, and the supposedly player-friendly Judge Doty concluded, that it was too late for the players to argue collusion for things happening before the signing of the current labor deal because the agreement included a settlement of all legal claims that were or could have been made. The notoriously business-friendly Eighth Circuit reversed Judge Doty’s ruling.
Look for the NFL to continue to raise preliminary arguments aimed at defeating the case before it has to share with the players evidence regarding any and all communications made to teams in and before 2010 about the unwritten rules of the uncapped year. Arguably, the NFLPA ratified any collusion by agreeing to the Dallas and Washington cap penalties in exchange for the league’s agreement to pump up the 2012 salary cap.
Previously, Judge Doty’s rulings tiptoed around facts and circumstances that would paint the union’s position as disingenuous. Now that the case will go back to Judge Doty’s courtroom after a ruling that he was wrong, look for Judge Doty to be a little more pointed in future opinions regarding what the NFLPA knew or should have known about any collusion that happened in connection with the 2010 league year.
Still, it’s a huge win for the NFLPA. And it’s a huge setback for the NFL, which could if the case ultimately goes against the league result in an award of damages approaching or exceeding $1 billion dollars.
UPDATE 11:15 a.m. ET: The NFL remains confident that it will prevail in the case. “As the Court emphasized, today’s decision is entirely procedural in nature,” the league said in a statement issued to PFT. “Far from validating the Union’s claim, the Court specifically highlighted the heavy burden that the NFLPA faces in establishing this claim, and we remain highly confident that the claim will be dismissed yet again.”