MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL Players Association's lawsuit alleging league owners set a secret salary cap in 2010 has been rejected again in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Michael Davis issued his order Tuesday, denying the motion filed by the NFLPA more than three years ago to reopen the long-running case that was closed in 2011 when the lockout ended. The union sought $4 billion in damages, citing collusion by NFL owners in conspiring to hold contracts down in the 2010 season, which was uncapped.
The collective bargaining agreement that emerged from negotiations during the lockout included the dismissal of all prior lawsuits and language preventing the players from reopening the case. U.S. District Judge David Doty, handing the union a rare defeat in his courtroom, first denied the motion in 2012.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals kept the case alive by sending it back to Doty, who recused himself in 2014 and let Davis take over for a fresh perspective. Davis declined to hold an oral hearing, making his decision solely on the papers filed by each party.
"After hard-fought negotiations between sophisticated and talented counsel, the NFLPA decided to settle its disputes with the NFL and made the calculated decision to release unknown claims in order to end the lockout at that point in time," Davis wrote. "Belated regret over that decision is not a basis for relief."
Doty had long overseen the 1993 class-action settlement, known as the Reggie White case for the lead plaintiff, that paved the way for the current unrestricted free agency system. Doty ruled, and Davis concurred, that the 2011 CBA barred the union from suing for alleged breaches of the White settlement, which served as the backbone of the prior CBA.
The three-judge appeals court panel disagreed with Doty on one of the union's two primary arguments for damages. Under a federal rule authorizing relief in exceptional cases where the party being sued disingenuously reached the settlement, the appeals court panel said the NFLPA should be allowed to argue the merit of its lawsuit despite the 2011 dismissal.
Davis denied the union that opportunity.
"The NFLPA has failed to demonstrate that the NFL engaged in any fraud or other misconduct that prevented the NFLPA from fully and fairly presenting its case," he wrote.
Dallas and Washington were penalized for overloading contracts in that 2010 uncapped season despite league warnings, and the NFL in 2012 penalized them by taking away $10 million in cap space from the Cowboys and $36 million from the Redskins.