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NFL- Eller v. NFL

September 2011

1. Eller et al v. National Football League et al

Civil Action No: 0:11-cv-00748-RHK-JSM (D. Minn.)  (Eller I) 

On March 29, 2011, four retired or former NFL players--Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller (who heads the Retired Players Association), Pro Bowl running back Priest Holmes, fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo and tight end Ryan Collins--filed a class action suit in federal district court in Minnesota against the league and its 32 member clubs, claiming that the owners' lockout and various other practices--including the NFL College Draft coupled with the Rookie Cap for each team--violated federal antitrust laws. On April 1, 2011, that complaint was amended to add a rookie plaintiff--Antawan Walker. 

The amended complaint is submitted on behalf of the following classes: (a) all retired or former professional football players who were employed by any NFL member club but are not now employed by the NFL or any member club and who receive health, retirement or other benefits from the NFL pursuant to the “Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan” (the “Plan”) or other benefit plans subsidized by the NFL and (b) potential rookie professional football players who, as of March 11, 2011 to the date of final judgment in this action and the determination of any appeal therefrom, have not previously commenced negotiation with any NFL club concerning employment and have not been selected in any NFL College Draft.  

A copy of the amended complaint and its exhibits can be found here. That complaint tells the full story about the lockout imposed on March 12, 2011 and the NFL’s longstanding scheme to put it in place.  

The plaintiffs in the Eller I case immediately moved to enjoin the lockout. This lockout threatens retired players who are beneficiaries under the Plan mentioned above (which was put on endangered status last year by the Department of Labor) and rookies who are being deprived of the opportunity to play in the 2011 NFL season. 

The Eller I plaintiffs’ initial injunction brief can be found here. Their reply brief can be found here

The motion in Eller I, as well as a similar motion by active NFL players and a rookie in a related case, was argued on April 6, 2011 before United States District Court Judge Susan Nelson. The Eller Plaintiffs explained at length how the league’s lockout was an antitrust restraint not protected under the labor laws. An outline of his argument can be found here

On April 25, 2011, Judge Nelson issued an 89-page opinion enjoining the NFL's lockout. She did so in the case involving current NFL players, although, as she noted, her ruling inures to the benefit of the Eller plaintiffs as well. Her order on the injunction can be found here. On the same day, the league filed a notice of appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit; that notice can be found here.

The order deals only with the lockout. Judge Nelson left for another day any rulings on the legality of the NFL's other alleged restraints of trade. 

On April 25, 2011, the NFL also requested that Judge Nelson stay the effect of her injunction order until the Eighth Circuit could rule on any appeal. On April 27, Judge Nelson rejected that request in a 20 page order that can be found here

On July 8, 2011, the Eighth Circuit vacated the district court's injunction order and remanded the case for further proceedings.  The Order can be found here.  

The NFL ultimately settled the case with the NFL Players Association (“NFLPA”) and ended the lockout. 

On August 24, 2011, the plaintiffs in Eller I dismissed their case without prejudice to filing. 

2. Eller et al v. NFLPA et al

Civil Action No: 0:11-cv-0263-DSD-FLN (D. Minn.) (Eller II) 

On September 13, 2011, 28 retired or former NFL players, including many Hall of Famers—Carl Eller, Charles Bednarik, Paul Krause, Lem Barney, Joe DeLamielleure, Leonard Moore, William Wood, Jr., Bob Lilly, Elvin Bethea, John Hannah, Tom Mack, Anthony Yary, Dave Wilcox, Leroy Kelly, Jackie Smith, Charlie Taylor, Mel Renfro, Bob St. Clair, Dan Hampton, Gino Marchetti, William Shaw, Don Maynard, Tom McDonald, Larry Little, Larry Wright, Kyle Turley, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, and Ryan Collins—filed a new class action lawsuit against the NFLPA, its Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, and certain of the active player plaintiffs who had previously sued to enjoin the NFL’s lockout. A copy of that complaint can be found here. 

The complaint in Eller II seeks a declaration that the NFLPA did not validly represent retired NFL players in any settlement with the NFL and raises claims for intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and for breach of fiduciary duty.

3. Gault et al v. NFLPA et al

Civil Action No: 0:11-cv-03012-RHK-JJG (D. Minn.) (Gault)

On October 13, 2011, 19 former players - including Willie Gault and Hugh McElhenny, joined Carl Eller, Chuck Bednarik and 23 other hall of famers when they filed a class action, on behalf of all former NFL players, against the NFLPA. The class action is Gault et al. v. NFLPA and is represented by two Hall of Famers, two soon to be Hall of Famers, three players listed in the NFL's official encyclopedia, Total Football II, as 300 of the greatest players in NFL history, and several other notable players.

This makes 47 former NFL players who have filed suit against the NFLPA in the past months. 27 of whom are hall of famers, 26 of whom who are listed in the NFL's official encyclopedia, Total Football II as 300 of the greatest players in NFL history, players who have made 39 super bowl appearances, and players who were selected to a combined 201 pro bowls.

The classes of players combined represents every decade of football since the 1940's, virtually every position in football, and every category of NFL player - including vested, non-vested, hall of famers, forgotten players, and legends of the game. Essentially, the suit aims to increase the amount that the retired players should have gotten in this past CBA. These players feel that instead of trying to divide a 620 million dollar legacy fund (which arguably still leaves many retired NFL players receiving a pension which falls under the federal poverty guidelines), the amounts given (earned) to retired players should be more representative of the billion dollar profits these players sacrificed to create.

The cases are currently set for a February 15, 2012 hearing date in federal court in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The law firms of Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason and Hausfeld LLP are representing the plaintiffs. 

A copy of the Complaint can be found here

We welcome your questions or comments related to either of these cases.   For more information, please contact Michael D. Hausfeld in our Washington, D.C. office or Michael P. Lehmann in our San Francisco office. 

Practice Areas: Sports and Entertainment, Antitrust / Competition


Related News

» Judge Grants Injunction to Lift NFL Lockout
» Class Action Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Former and Prospective Rookie NFL Players


Related Press Releases

» Retired NFL Players Call for AFL-CIO to Expel NFLPA
» Support Your Team's Retired NFL Players


Supporting Documents

» Eller I- Second Amended Complaint (PDF)
» Eller I- Memo in Support of Preliminary Injunction (PDF)
» Eller I- Department of Labor's Notice of Endangered Status (PDF)
» Eller I- Reply Memo in Support of Preliminary Injunction (PDF)
» Eller I- Argument Outline: Hearing on Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Preliminary Injunction (PDF)
» Eller I- April 4, 2011 Letter to Retired Players (PDF)
» Eller II - Complaint with Exhibits (PDF)
» Gault Complaint (PDF)
» Eller II - Order Granting Motion to Dismiss (PDF)
» Eller II - Oral Argument on June 11, 2013 (MP3)


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