The race to the courthouse is over before it even started.
Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has filed a pre-emptive lawsuit challenging the appeal process arising from the six-game suspension imposed upon him by Commissioner Roger Goodell.
The petition seeks a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas vacating the eventual ruling in the case, which would block the suspension to be imposed by the NFL, presuming that arbitrator Harold Henderson affirms all or part of the pending six-game banishment.
Elliott moved quickly to file suit because the NFL filed the first lawsuit two years ago in the Tom Brady case, rushing to federal court in Manhattan immediately after the ruling on Brady’s appeal became final. Though the league lost at the district court level, the NFL prevailed in the appeals court.
With the league likely to file a lawsuit promptly after the ruling is issued again, Elliott short-circuited the process.
The NFL undoubtedly will argue that, by not waiting for a final ruling, Elliott failed to exhaust his available remedies under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Elliott undoubtedly will argue that compliance with the internal procedures would have been futile, given the various flaws in the process.
The process was indeed flawed, in multiple ways. Elliott’s accuser never testified under oath, Commissioner Roger Goodell did not personally observe testimony from Elliott or his accuser, Tiffany Thompson. Also, Henderson refused to compel the league to make Thompson available to testify at the appeal hearing. He also declined to force the league to produce the notes of the league’s interviews with Thompson.
As a practical matter, the admission by NFL investigator Kia Roberts that she recommended no suspension of Elliott will likely get the attention of the judge to whom the case is assigned.
The first battle will entail an effort to delay any suspension until the litigation has concluded. The goal will be to get a ruling on that effort as soon as possible, so that Elliott will be able to practice next week and play in Week One, and beyond.