High Court Lets Stand Ruling Against Pro Hockey Players

The Supreme Court refused to revive claims by former National Hockey League players that they were victims of a conspiracy among teams and the head of the players union to keep salaries low.

The court, without comment Monday, let a federal appeals court's ruling stand in the case. The Philadelphia appeals court ruled last year that the players waited too long to sue.

The players wanted to hold the league and its teams responsible for the actions of Alan Eagleson, the former head of the NHL Players' Association who served six months in prison for fraud.

Former NHL players Dave Forbes, Rick Middleton, Brad Park, Ulf Nilsson and Doug Smail filed a class action lawsuit against the NHL and all its individual teams in 1995 on behalf of about 1,000 NHL players who played during Eagleson's tenure.

The players alleged a two-decade conspiracy from the 1970s to the 1990s, in which NHL teams knew Eagleson was misusing union money, but did nothing because he helped negotiate labor contracts favorable to the teams.

The players sought triple damages under the omnibus federal racketeering law.

The U.S. District Court in Philadelphia dismissed the lawsuit in August 1998, saying the players knew in 1991 about the allegations against Eagleson and that the four-year statue of limitations in civil racketeering cases had run out.

The players argued that because Eagleson wasn't indicted on criminal charges until 1994, the statute of limitations should be measured from then.

Eagleson pleaded guilty in January 1997 in Boston to three counts of fraud and theft involving players' insurance premiums. He was fined $1 million.

He later pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud in Toronto. Those charges involved skimming Canada Cup advertising and tournament money from Labatts, Hockey Canada and the players' union.

The case is Forbes v. Eagleson, 00-1623.