Judge Orders NFL Retirees to Drop Two Cases
A U.S. District Judge in Minnesota dismissed two new cases relating to the publicity rights of NFL retirees. On September 6, 2013, the judge said the cases were filed too early and violated the terms of an earlier order.
The two cases arose out of unhappiness with a settlement in an earlier case. In that case, ex-players alleged that the NFL wrongfully used their likenesses in marketing materials. On April 8, 2013, a settlement was preliminarily approved for the dispute. According to the settlement, a special licensing agency for the rights of ex-players is to be formed along with a $42 million fund for the benefit of the retirees. As part of the preliminary approval, the court barred new cases while the settlement was pending. On October 17, 2013, the court will hear arguments about the fairness and final approval of the settlement.
Despite the court’s ban, two cases were filed in August by players who opted out of the settlement. On August 20, 2013, a case was filed in New Jersey federal court on behalf of approximately 500 former players. Then on August 30, another case was filed in a Pennsylvania federal court on behalf of about 550 retirees. Among those involved in the recently filed cases were Fred Dryer, Mark Gastineau, Abdul Salaam, Curley Culp, and the estate of Jack Tatum.
The cases contend that settlement payments are filtered through various organizations and do not directly compensate the retired players. The attorney in one case said, “[n]ot a single penny would go to any player directly.”
The cases were filed under the belief that the players had fully opted out, and therefore, were excluded from the settlement. The judge, however, did not agree. He said the attorneys’ “behavior, which is calculated only to doom the settlement in this matter, shocks the court’s conscience.” “There can be no doubt that the filing[s] … violated the injunction against related litigation.”
The judge ordered the lawyers to publicly announce the dismissal of the cases. In addition, he ordered that players who filed papers seeking exclusion will be given ten days to reconsider and withdraw their requests.
The lawyers in both cases stated that they would abide by the order. The attorney in the Pennsylvania case stated, “[w]e will comply with his order and will refuel, and re-litigate these claims that our clients believe in, when permitted.” However, the New Jersey attorney indicated that he would withdraw for now, but would appeal the order.