On February 5, 2018, the NFL, and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), filed a motion to dismiss an antitrust suit brought by former sports agent James Dickey. As we have previously covered, Dickey accused the NFL and the NFLPA of stifling competition by implementing a rule called the “Three Year Rule” to keep new agents out of the NFL. In order for an agent to represent players the must be certified. To be certified, agents must negotiate at least one NFL team contract every three years. According to Dickey, “The three-year rule was set up as a ruse and sham to routinely deny any reasonable appeal to the decertification process, which became an automatic decertification event contrary to the guidelines as set forth under the [collective bargaining agreement].” Dickey was decertified in 2008, and again in 2016, after failing to sign one player to an NFL team within the three years.
The NFL and NFLPA argued that Dickey’s suit should be dismissed. According to the NFL’s motion, in 2016, Judge Leo Theodore Sorokin has expressly warned Dickey “against filing frivolous or vexatious suits in the future.” The NFL argued that Dickey’s suit is frivolous because he claims that the NFL breached an unspecified contract, violated fiduciary duties, and committed antitrust violations on account of his decertification. However, according to the NFL, they have never had a contact with Dickey, they owe him no duties, and the Three Year Rule was created, and enforced by, the NFLPA, not the NFL.
According to the NFLPA’s motion, pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), Dickey’s suit is subject to mandatory arbitration under the NFLPA Regulations. Thus, the NFLPA argued that the court should compel Dickey to arbitrate his claims under the NFLPA Regulations and dismiss the complaint pursuant to the FAA. Alternatively, the NFLPA argued that the court should dismiss the suit because Dickey has failed to state a legal claim. Specifically, Dickey’s antitrust suit is barred by the statutory and non-statutory labor exemptions to the antitrust laws, and even if it were not, the NFLPA argued that Dickey has not, and cannot, meet numerous pleading requirements to state an antitrust claim. In an antitrust suit, the plaintiff must show how the market was affected, but Dickey only showed how he was affected.
The NFLPA argued that the NFL and the NFLPA are exempt from antitrust scrutiny because the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was properly bargained for and employs rules to benefit the parties to the agreement. However, according to the NFLPA, Dickey is not a party to the agreement because he was decertified in 2008 and again in 2016. According to the NFL and the NFLPA, the Three Year Rule is a standard-setting rule that gives players the best options for agents, gives the NFLPA the best chance to increase wages, and Dickey’s decertification, under the rule, was a result of his own conduct. Dickey has requested that the court reinstate his status as an NFL agent.