Thursday, September 06, 2018

Dent v. NFL (9th Cir. - Sept. 6, 2018)

Football fans (and there are many of them) will recognize the names on this caption.  Lead plaintiff Richard Dent is a famous football player who was a defensive end for the Chicago Bears, and was legendary (as well as feared on the field) in his time.  And the NFL is the National Football League.  Also somewhat well-known.

Mr. Dent is one of several named plaintiffs in a putative class action alleging that the National Football League "distributed controlled substances and prescription drugs to its players in violation of both state and federal laws, and that the manner in which these drugs were administered left the players with permanent injuries and chronic medical conditions."  If you know anything at all about the old-school NFL, you know that drug use -- particularly painkillers -- was indeed rampant.  So on the merits, there's some real problems for the NFL there.

But legally, the case is a very difficult one (IMHO) for the plaintiffs.  The NFL prevails in the district court on a motion to dismiss, with Judge Alsup of the Northern District finding the claims preempted by federal labor law (since there was a CBA that covered the players during this period).  But today, the Ninth Circuit reverses.  No preemption.  Plus a lot of language in the opinion that the plaintiffs in the case will find helpful on the merits.

The players are nonetheless a long way from victory here.  There are statute of limitations issues.  There are numerous issues on the merits.  Even the panel hints there may be problems with another motion to dismiss, or with a motion for a more definite statement, or at the summary judgment stage.  And, on my part, I'll add that I'm highly doubtful that this is going to actually get certified as a class, if only because the individual issues seem to me to predominate.

But for now, the lawsuit survives, and goes forward.