FURTHER UPDATE: The NFL has released a statement, the most important tidbit of which is that Adrian Peterson has been returned to the NFL Roster Exemption/Commissioner’s Permission List.
Judge Doty’s order did not contain any determinations concerning the fairness of the appeals process under the CBA, including the commissioner’s longstanding authority to appoint a designee to act as a hearing officer. Even so, we believe strongly that Judge Doty’s order is incorrect and fundamentally at odds with well-established legal precedent governing the district court’s role in reviewing arbitration decisions. As a result, we have filed a notice of appeal to have the ruling reviewed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the interim, Adrian Peterson will be returned to the Commissioner Exempt List pending further proceedings by appeals officer Harold Henderson or a determination by the Eighth Circuit Court.
It has been the NFL’s contention that the courts had no authority to review arbitration decisions and it sounds like they will use this argument once more in appeal. As far as I know, and this is an educated guess, the Vikings and Peterson cannot have contact with each other while he is on the Exempt List until the new league year, and he cannot be traded (until the new league year, I believe—the exempt list does not prevent a trade by itself).
Wrong again! According to Ben Goessling at ESPN, the Exempt List DOES allow a player and a team to communicate. This means all the analysis for why that matters (below) is applicable.
The Eighth Circuit Court holds court one week a year in mid-April, and rulings come out in late May and early June. No word yet on what it means for the NFL April 15 hearing on Adrian Peterson’s suspension, because… well, he’s not suspended anymore.
UPDATE: Per Ian Rapaport of the NFL Network, the NFL will appeal Judge Doty’s decision, presumably seeking an injunction while the case is settling in a District Court.
In important news, the @NFL is expected to appeal the Adrian Peterson ruling handed down by Judge Doty. Explanation coming online.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 26, 2015
This does not preclude a second arbitration hearing “under the old policy,” though I suspect if it happened, the NFL would find a way to uphold their own ruling again. No word yet on whether or not the NFL will challenge both rulings (the retroactivity one and the one arguing Henderson had the authority to rule on the old policy as well) or just one.
As Andrew Brandt notes, courts are increasingly hesitant to overrule the rulings of an arbitrator, and that may include the ruling over what an arbitrator can rule over, as it were—meaning courts can defer to an arbitrator’s interpretation of their own scope of power, and increasingly do (as friends in the legal community have confirmed to me).
The Eighth District Court may rule that Judge Doty was correct in ruling against the NFL for punishing Peterson according to the old conduct policy but incorrect with regards to the arbitrator’s scope—that is, the District Court may argue Henderson’s ruling that Peterson’s suspension is upheld under the old policy still applies.
According to former Minnesota Viking Robert Smith of ESPN, Judge David Doty has ruled in favor of Adrian Peterson and the NFLPA in their court case contesting Harold Henderson’s ruling to suspend Adrian Peterson. That does not precisely reinstate Peterson, but it does overturn Henderson’s ruling. Text as follows:
CONCLUSION Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
1. The petition to vacate arbitration award [ECF No. 2] is granted; and
2. The case is remanded for such further proceedings consistent with this order as the CBA may permit.
The Court found that the NFL violated the “essence of the CBA” by violating industrial common law and argued that the Ray Rice precedent was proof; the NFL’s attempt to distinguish the cases didn’t pass muster.
According to Doty, “Although Henderson purported to rely on factual differences between Rice and this case, he did not explain how those differences would justify a different result.” The arbitration is therefore vacated, although I’m not sure if this means Adrian Peterson is reinstated or whether or not this forces the NFL to reconsider the NFLPA’s appeal against his suspension (functionally retrying the case under the old policy). Regardless, this should mean that Peterson will be reinstated soon because his punishment exceeded the bounds of the old policy.
The NFLPA has said that Adrian Peterson’s suspension has been overturned, while the text of the ruling doesn’t seem as obvious to me.
EDIT: My intuition was correct—he has not been reinstated, the arbitration has been rebuked. Peterson’s and the NFLPA’s appeal of suspension with the NFL is active once more and it will be decided upon by the old policy.
The NFL released the following, five-word statement: “We are reviewing the decision.”
The NFLPA released the following statement:
“This is a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness. Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players’ rights. This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game.”
The NFL has legal recourse in this case and can file an appeal and can potentially seek an injunction on the stay of suspension granted by the court, functionally re-suspending him. That would take it up to the circuit court.