The NHL and Derek Boogaard’s Parents Argue Over Jurisdiction

On January 25, 2018, the NHL and the parents of deceased NHL hockey player, Derek Boogaard, argued over whether the Seventh Circuit had the jurisdictional authority to hear the case. The issue revolved around the relationship between the Boogaard’s wrongful death claim and the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA). As we have previously covered, the Boogaard’s suit began in 2013 after Boogaard died of a painkiller overdose in 2011. The Boogaard’s alleged that their son developed a painkiller addiction and permanent brain damage from injuries sustained as an NHL hockey player.

The NHL argued that the district court has subject matter jurisdiction over the case because the suit is preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act. According to the judicial memo, under section 301 of the act, federal district courts have jurisdiction to hear “suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees.” The NHL argued that the Boogaard’s complaint alleged that the NHL improperly failed to monitor and supervise its’s substance abuse and behavioral health program. As a result, Boogaard died of overdose in 2011. According to the NHL, because the Boogaard’s argued that the NHL breached its contract, the CBA, with Boogaard in relation to his treatment, then the claims must be preempted by section 301. Meaning the district court should subject matter jurisdiction over the entire case.

In opposition, the Boogaard’s argued the Seventh Circuit does not have subject matter jurisdiction and the case should be remanded to state court. The Boogaard’s first argued that the CBA’s provisions involve the obligations of each NHL team, not the obligations of the league. However, the Boogaard’s suit does mention any NHL team, it only lists the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman, and the NHL board of governors as defendant’s in the suit. The Boogaard’s also argued that their claims regard a matter of state law. In their original complaint, the Boogaard’s alleged that the NHL was negligent, under Illinois law, because it failed to create a safe work environment for players. The Boogaard’s argued that as an enforcer (fighter) in the NHL, Boogaard had an increased risk of brain damage and was particularly susceptible to drug addiction. Boogaard played in 277 games and was involved in at least 66 on-ice fights. Subsequently, Boogaard received over one thousand pills from NHL team physicians, dentists, trainers, and staff during his career. The lawsuit alleged that the NHL knew, or should have known, that Boogaard was a drug addict, with probable brain damage, and that he was not complying with treatment.

This is yet another episode in the Boogaard’s wrongful death suit, which appears to be far from over.

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