Eighth Circuit Upholds Legality Of NFL Lockout

The NFL owners’115-day lockout of its players is legal, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has held, overturning U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson’s April 25th ruling in Minneapolis.

The Court issued its decision as the NFL and the legal representatives of the locked out players continue negotiations in hopes of reaching a new collective bargaining agreement in time to begin the scheduled start of training camps for the 2011 season. The timing of the decision surprised both the NFL and the players. Both sides believed the Court would hold its opinion in abeyance until after the parties either reached agreement on a new contract or declared they had reached an impasse.

The Eighth Circuit ruling is a clear, but limited, victory for the owners. While the Court ruled on the legality of the NFL lockout, it did not address any specifics of the pending anti-trust lawsuit filed by current and former players, including Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Carl Eller.

The Court’s concluded that since Judge Nelson’s preliminary injunction did not conform with the provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, and therefore was improperly issued, it did not have to rule on other points raised by the NFL in its appeal. The Court stated, “We express no view on whether the League’s nonstatutory labor exemption from the antitrust laws continues after the union’s disclaimer. The parties agree that the Act’s restrictions on equitable relief are not necessarily coextensive with the substantive rules of antitrust law, and we reach our decision on that understanding.”

The NFL and NFLPA released a joint statement following the ruling indicating their intent to continue negotiations notwithstanding the Court’s ruling:

While we respect the court’s decision, today’s ruling does not change our mutual recognition that this matter must be resolved through negotiation. We are committed to our current discussions and reaching a fair agreement that will benefit all parties for years to come, and allow for a full 2011 season.