The NFL the NFL Players Association head to a federal appeals court on Monday regarding the effort by the league either to stay the injunction that blocks the Ezekiel Elliott suspension or to dismiss entirely the Texas lawsuit that led to the injunction. Per an NFL source, the league believes it’s possible that the court will rule from the bench.
If the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issues a decision during the hearing that dismisses the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the federal lawsuit filed by the NFL in federal court in Manhattan will most likely proceed immediately. The league anticipates that Elliott and the NFLPA will then try to get the same injunction from the New York court that was secured in Texas. Absent that injunction (and the league believes its ultimate success in the Tom Brady litigation could block that injunction), the suspension would begin as soon as Week Five.
While it’s impossible to know what any court will do in any given case, the league is pleased with the fact that the appeals court scheduled oral argument on the issue, and that the court sought separate written argument on the question of whether jurisdiction exists in the Texas federal court. Those steps are interpreted as a sign that the court is taking seriously the question of whether the case should be dismissed.
The NFL’s primary argument continues to be that Elliott filed the lawsuit too soon, before his internal appeal had concluded.
Perhaps the best news for the NFL is that the three-judge panel, pursuant to the loose (and often unreliable) political assessment of federal judges, consists of two nominated by Republican presidents and one nominated by a Democrat. Judge Edward C. Prado was nominated by President George W. Bush, Judge James E. Graves, Jr. was nominated by President Barack Obama, and Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod was nominated by President George W. Bush.
Judges nominated by Republican presidents tend to be conservative (and thus pro-business) in their rulings and reasoning, and judges nominated by Democratic presidents tend to be progressive (and thus pro-employee) in their rulings and reasoning. Although this case is hardly a typical employment dispute, given the annual compensation of the plaintiff, the principles used to resolve this case will be relevant to future cases involving individuals who are making far less money than Elliott is.
In a case where two votes wins, and if political realities hold, the NFL may already have the votes that it needs.