Sports Litigation and Cases to Keep an Eye on in the New Year (Part I)

2015 was a year full of highly debated controversies in the world of sports litigation. However, the debating isn’t over quite yet as some of the most notorious cases of 2015 will have litigation continuing into the new year. From “Deflategate” to the FIFA corruption scandal, this post is part one of notable sports cases you should be sure to follow in 2016.

“Deflategate” Appeal

Deflategate was one of the most talked about controversies in sports in 2015, as it involved allegations of the ever-popular New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady cheating in an NFL playoff game. Brady was allegedly involved in a scheme to advantageously tamper with game balls he used in last season’s AFC championship “blow-out” victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The NFL suspended Brady for the first four games of the 2015-2016 Regular Season based on the allegations.

Brady appealed the decision to an arbitrator, who, through the provisions of the NFL-NFLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — the same person who initially dealt the four-game suspension. It therefore was unsurprising that Goodell, acting as arbitrator, affirmed the suspension that he himself ordered as commissioner.

The NFLPA then sued the NFL in federal court on behalf of Brady. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Berman ultimately reversed the arbitration decision and terminated the suspension. Judge Berman reasoned that the league, in suspending Brady, failed to provide the quarterback with proper notice — one of the few reasons a court will meddle in the decisions of a private entity (as compared to a government entity).

The NFL subsequently appealed the decision to the Second Circuit. In sum, the NFL intends to argue that Judge Berman’s decision was incorrect because the Labor Management Relations Act requires courts to uphold arbitration rulings “so long as [a decision] is plausibly based in the parties’ CBA.” Further, the league will contend that the CBA provides the commissioner with “broad authority to protect the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.” On the other side of the litigation, Brady and the NFLPA intend to argue that Goodell was clearly a biased arbitrator and his powers under the CBA are restricted by principles of fairness in arbitration proceedings.

Oral arguments before the Second Circuit are scheduled for March of 2016.

NJ Sports Betting Suit

It may be a new year, but New Jersey’s case before the Third Circuit is anything but new. The Third Circuit has rejected New Jersey’s efforts to legalize sports betting in the state’s racetracks and casino’s on two occasions. However, in October, the Third Circuit agreed to revisit its most recent decision disallowing New Jersey from legalizing sports betting.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill in 2012, which permitted betting on professional and college sports at racetracks and Atlantic City casinos. In 2013, the NCAA, MLB, NFL, NHL, and NBA, brought suit in opposition to the New Jersey law. The leagues argued that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA) preempts the New Jersey law. Additionally, the leagues argued that the spread of legalized betting would undermine the integrity of athletic competition. New Jersey countered, arguing that PASPA violates the state’s sovereign rights and is unconstitutional. The Third Circuit agreed with the leagues and held that New Jersey’s law is preempted by PASPA. However, in coming to its conclusion, the Third Circuit used language suggesting that states have some leeway over the implementation of such policies.

After the Third Circuit’s ruling, New Jersey sought other avenues to obtain the legalization of sports betting within the state. In 2014, New Jersey attempted to utilize the language used in the Third Circuit’s 2013 holding, and pass a bill that was only a partial repeal of existing state law prohibiting sports betting. Specifically, Governor Christie argued that the law would allow casinos and racetracks to offer sports betting but they would not be licensed for sports betting, which he alleged conforms to PAPSA. The NCAA and the four professional leagues sued the Christie administration yet again, claiming that the state law threatens the integrity of their respective sports. The district court sided with the leagues and on appeal, the Third Circuit rejected New Jersey’s argument that the new law complied with PAPSA as interpreted by the Court’s 2013 order.

In October of 2015, the Third Circuit granted New Jersey’s request to revisit its decision and stated that it will consider all issues in the case. The oral arguments have been scheduled for February of 2016.

Tomorrow’s post will focus on the other big sports litigation issues sure to take center stage in 2016: NCAA antitrust litigation, concussion litigation in the NHL, and the FIFA corruption scandal.

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