NFL Continues to Argue Hernandez Suit is a Matter of Federal Labor Law

On December 18, 2017, the National Football League responded in opposition to Avielle Hernandez’s motion to remand her lawsuit against the NFL back to state court. Also named in the suit are helmet maker Riddell and other related companies. Avielle’s lawsuit seeks compensation for the NFL’s role in her father’s, Aaron Hernandez’s, post-mortem diagnosis of stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Those diagnosed with CTE exhibit symptoms that include impulse control issues, aggression, depression, dementia, and suicidality. Hernandez committed suicide while serving a life sentence for murder.

Avielle originally filed the lawsuit in Massachusetts state court, but the NFL quickly removed the case to federal court. Avielle moved for the case to be returned to Massachusetts state court, arguing that Hernandez’s time as a professional football player was incidental to her claim, and her loss of parental consortium claim is not preempted due to a lack of relationship between her and the league. In response to Avielle’s arguments, the NFL claimed the fact the core of her allegations rest on the league’s alleged duties to Hernandez cannot be overlooked, and the collective bargaining agreements must still be analyzed. The NFL further asserted the case cannot be remanded back to Massachusetts because Hernandez’s relationship with the league was governed by two collective bargaining agreements. Those collective bargaining agreements are governed by the federal Labor Management Relations Act under Section 301. Specifically, the NFL argued, “[b]ecause the CBAs allocate responsibility – for treating player injuries generally, and making ‘return to play’ decisions specifically – to clubs and their medical staff, a court cannot make such an assessment in a vacuum; it must first consider the scope of such duties, and plaintiff’s claims therefore are preempted by Section 301.”

The NFL also argued the case cannot be remanded to state court because Avielle is a class member in the multidistrict litigation in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Hernandez is considered a retired player, and thus his daughter a derivative claimant, which the NFL argued meant Avielle is grouped with the settlement class and thus agreed to submit all related disputes to the multidistrict litigation court. Hernandez’s counsel did not find the NFL’s arguments persuasive and stated they have never been effective in cases he previously litigated against the league. The issues of remanding the case back to state court and whether the case will be stayed until a decision is made concerning the multidistrict litigation are still pending.

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