NFL Mgmt. Council v. NFL Players Ass'n, No. 15-2801 (2d Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
The NFL suspended New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four games because of his involvement in a scheme to deflate footballs during the 2015 AFC Championship Game. After Brady requested arbitration, League Commissioner Roger Goodell, who served as arbitrator, entered an award confirming the discipline. The district court vacated the award based on the reasoning that Brady lacked notice that his conduct was prohibited and punishable by suspension, and that the manner in which the proceedings were conducted deprived him of fundamental fairness. The court concluded that the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion to resolve an intramural controversy between the League and a player. In their collective bargaining agreement, the players and the League mutually decided many years ago that the Commissioner should investigate possible rule violations, should impose appropriate sanctions, and may preside at arbitration challenging his discipline. In this case, the court concluded that Brady received adequate notice that deflation of footballs could lead to suspension, the Commissioner's decision to exclude testimony from NFL General Counsel fits within his broad discretion to admit or exclude evidence and raises no questions of fundamental fairness, and there is no fundamental unfairness in the Commissioner's denial of notes and memoranda generated by the investigative team where the collective bargaining agreement does not require the exchange of such notes. The court concluded that the Association's remaining claims are without merit. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded.