Home Page The Publication The Editor Contact Information Insurance Key issues Book Subscribe

Vol. 7, Iss. 1
January 31, 2018

Super Bowl LII Preview: The Best Of NFL Litigation


Super Bowl LII is upon us. In fact, the pre-game show started yesterday. The Super Bowl has always been as much about the build-up and preparation for the game as the 3,600 ticks of the clock during which the winner is decided. There is lots to be done to get ready for kick-off. This is especially so for those having guests over to watch the big game. For party hosts, Super Bowl preparation is a world of decisions: Nacho chips -- go with scoops? How many pigs in a blanket will ten people eat? Solo cups or those crystal glasses that you registered for and never use? What to get for your healthy brother-in-law -- Baked Lays or crudité?

While most Super Bowl decisions involve food and drink, care should also be taken to ensure that the conversation stays football-focused in the event that the game is a dud. Lack of such preparation opens the door to your brother-in-law talking non-stop about cross fit.

Football is the national past-time. Litigation is a close second. So what better way to deal with any lull in the action than a discussion of the substantial number of lawsuits that surround the National Football League, its players and fans. There are hundreds of NFL-related judicial opinions. And that makes sense. The National Football League is a gargantuan business. And it has one of the highest of all profiles. In addition, the NFL is, understandably, very protective of its brand, image and intellectual property. The NFL would sue Mother Teresa if they caught her wearing a knock-off Saints jersey. I wouldn’t even chew gum outside the league’s Park Avenue office.

There are NFL-related cases involving such things as licensing, intellectual property, antitrust, use of players’ likenesses, collective bargaining, labor and draft issues, stadium issues, taxes, workers’ compensation, player eligibility, banned substances, broadcast issues, concussion-related issues and, wait, wasn’t there a little something about a football that was deflated?

But simply because the NFL is about tossing a ball around does not guarantee that all of the opinions surrounding its legal issues read like fun and games. Lots are still just dry decisions involving commercial litigation. That the case has something to do with football does not change that. And football does not offer what baseball does to create some interesting litigation – a ball that enters the stands at lightning speed.

But, as the following cases demonstrate, there are still plenty involving the league, its teams and fans that are unique, entertaining and eyebrow-raising -- some involving things you’d never even imagine. These cases are sure to generate plenty of discussion during the big game -- in case there are no Justin Timberlake fans in your house.

Brown v. National Football League (S.D.N.Y. 2002): Player’s suit for damages, from being struck in the eye by a referee’s penalty flag weighted with B.B. pellets, did not implicate the collective bargaining agreement between the players’ union and teams. [The procedure for filing a notice of appeal: throw a red challenge flag on the courthouse steps.]

Stoutenborough v. National Football League (6th Cir. 1995): Hearing impaired individuals failed to establish that the “blackout rule,” which prohibited live local broadcast of home football games that were not sold out, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, because non-hearing impaired individuals could listen to the game on the radio.

Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, Inc. (10th Cir. 1979): Holding that a professional football player intentionally struck by another player has the right to pursue a tort action. The court rejected the trial court’s decision that the only remedy a player has, for receiving an unlawful blow during a game, is retaliation.

Coniglio v. Highwood Services, Inc. (2nd Cir. 1974): Holding that it was not a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act for a professional football team to require a person wishing to purchase season tickets to also purchase tickets to pre-season games. [Such practice may not be a violation of the Sherman Act, but it is a violation of morality.]

Jaguar Cars, Ltd. v. National Football League (S.D.N.Y. 1995): Addressing jurisdictional issues in a case by an automobile manufacturer, Jaguar, alleging that the Jacksonville Jaguars use of the name Jaguar was trademark infringement in violation of the Lanham Act.

Mayer v. Belichick (3rd Cir 2010): Holding that Jets season ticket holder could not maintain fraud and racketeering claims against the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick for surreptitiously videotaping the Jets coaches and players on the field to steal their signals and coaching instructions. [Did the Pats really need such elaborate efforts to beat the Jets?]

Titlecraft v. National Football League (D. Minn. 2010): Holding that a trophy manufacturer’s fantasy football league trophy, looking similar to the Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl, violated the league’s copyright.

Minnesota Police & Peace Officers Association v. National Football League (Minn. Ct. App. 2015): Holding that, for purposes of off duty peace officers carrying weapons, the Minnesota Citizens’ Personal Protection Act does not prevent the Vikings from complying with the NFL’s policy of prohibiting firearms within stadiums.

White v. National Football League (8th Cir. 2009): Holding that Michael Vick was not required to repay the Atlanta Falcons $16 million in bonuses for the remaining years of his contract that the quarterback was unable to perform after being indefinitely suspended by the NFL on account of pleading guilty to federal dog fighting charges.

Reed v. National Football League (C.D. Calif. 2015): Rejecting a claim for damages from an individual who alleged that the NFL stole his idea for a football version of the television program American Idol (“[A] contest-type reality television series where men compete against each other in football-related contests. Contestants would be graded by real NFL scouts who will follow the official Combine measuring process. The top performers will win a cash prize and an all-expense paid trip to visit with an NFL team and coaches, watch them practice, and sit on the side lines during a game.”).

Louie v. National Football League (S.D.N.Y. 2002): Rejecting fan’s claim that the NFL’s Super Bowl ticket lottery system violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because it disenfranchised disabled customers their right to obtain available accessible seats.

Bossier v. National Football League (E.D. La. 2003): Rejecting fraudulent joinder argument in a case brought by an individual who was injured while punting in the NFL Experience at Super Bowl XXXVI. When light rain created unfavorable conditions for punting, wood chips were spread over the kicking area.

Bouchat v. Bon-Ton Department Stores (and several hundred others) (4th Cir. 2007): An amateur artist faxed a sketch for a proposed Baltimore Ravens logo to the team. He said that if they used the logo he wanted a letter of recognition and autographed helmet. The Ravens adopted a logo that had a remarkable resemblance to the artist’s sketch. Years of litigation ensued. [So much for that helmet.]

Sims v. Jones (N.D. Tex. 2013): Court denied class certification to Super Bowl ticketholders who were denied or delayed access to the game or moved to lesser quality seats because temporary seats were not ready by game time.

Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Company (Ohio 1996): Addressing claim by on-field video cameraman injured when a Houston Oilers receiver and Cleveland Browns defender collided while going for a ball that had overthrown the end zone.

Finkelman v. National Football League (3d Cir. 2017): Holding that a Giants fan had standing to maintain an action alleging that the NFL’s withholding of 99% of Super Bowl tickets from the general public, for Super Bowl XLVIII (in New Jersey), violated N.J.’s Ticket Law (part of the state’s Consumer Protection Act).

That litigation surrounding the NFL is extensive was noted by the Coniglio court nearly 40 forty years ago – incredibly, before every other case on this list was decided: “Whatever else might be said about professional football in the United States, it does seem to breed a hardy group of fans who do not fear litigation combat.”

Website by Balderrama Design Copyright Randy Maniloff All Rights Reserved