NFL Highlights Film: The Best Of Football Litigation – When the Gridiron And Courtroom Collide

NFL Highlights Film: The Best Of Football Litigation – When the Gridiron And Courtroom Collide

I have long been a student of the intersection between sports and the law. And there are countless opportunities to get this education. These two come together in innumerable ways – from the deadly serious to the hilariously entertaining and everything imaginable in between. And there should be no surprise about this collision. After all, sports is our national pastime. Suing people is our second national pastime.

With the Super Bowl just completed and the NFL keeping a lot of lawyers busy in 2014, this seemed a good time to reprise a favorite article of mine from a past issue of Coverage Opinions. [Not to mention that reprising an article is always a good way to save some time.]

The following article, taking a look at some litigation surrounding the National Football League, appeared in the September 18, 2013 issue of Coverage Opinions.

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A substantial amount of litigation surrounds the National Football League, its players and fans. There are hundreds of NFL-related judicial opinions on Lexis. And no doubt this tells just part of the story. Surely plenty of cases are filed that never reach the point of a reported decision. [I will do you a favor here and not use trite football expressions to demonstrate that the game and litigation are both an aggressive battle between offensive and defensive opponents. Just in case you did not know that, they are.]

And all this makes sense. The National Football League is a big, really big, business. And it has one of the highest of all profiles. So it is not surprising that there is a lot of NFL-related litigation. In addition, the NFL is, understandably, very protective of its brand and image. 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 280 Park office.

Now simply because the NFL is exciting does not guarantee that all of the litigation surrounding it will be. Lots of it is not. While the NFL’s product may be tossing a ball, the league itself is a business. So much of the litigation in which the league finds itself is, well, about business. There are NFL-related cases involving licensing, intellectual property, antitrust, use of players’ likenesses, collective bargaining, labor and draft issues, stadium issues, taxes, workers’ compensation, player eligibility, banned substances and broadcast issues, and so on. And, of course, there is the recently-settled litigation over head injuries suffered by players.

The subject of National Football League-related litigation makes for a long and varied list. But along with the necessary dry commercial litigation involving the NFL are plenty of very interesting and eyebrow-raising cases. Granted football does not offer what baseball does to create fun and interesting litigation – a ball that enters the stands at lightning speed. Nonetheless there are still plenty of cases to keep readers’ interest. Below is a brief description – in no particular order -- of some judicial opinions in interesting cases involving professional football. [Space constraints make it impossible to provide all of the details. While I have to punt there, if anything piques your interest just hand me off a note and I’ll pass you the full case.]

Stoutenborough v. National Football League (6th Cir. 1995), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: 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.

Brown v. National Football League (S.D.N.Y. 2002), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: 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. [Procedure for filing a Notice of Appeal: throw a red challenge flag in the player’s eye.]

National Football League v. Coors Brewing Company (2nd Cir. 1999), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: Court declined to lift a preliminary injunction that prevented National Football League Players, Inc. and Coors Brewing from using the phrase “Official Beer of the NFL Players” to promote Coors’s products. [By the way, Coverage Opinions is the official insurance coverage newsletter of the National Football League. Kidding. Kidding Mr. Goodell. It was a joke.]

Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, Inc. (10th Cir. 1979), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: 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.

Jaguar Cars, Ltd. v. National Football League (S.D.N.Y. 1995), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers],: Addressing jurisdictional issues in case by automobile manufacturer, Jaguar, alleging that the Jacksonville Jaguars use of the name Jaguar was trademark infringement in violation of the Lanham Act. [It probably didn’t help the football Jaguars that its president wrote to Jaguar Cars, Ltd. seeking its sponsorship of the proposed team. Really.]

Cox v. National Football League (S.D.N.Y. 1995), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: Addressing whether Miami Dolphins player, subjected to racial harassment by Buffalo Bills fans, could recover attorney’s fees for suit against National Football League, because such suit brought about changes in the NFL’s security guidelines.

Louie v. National Football League (S.D.FL. 2002), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: 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), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: Rejecting fraudulent joinder argument in a case brought by an individual that 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. [Shocking that that didn’t solve the problem.]

Bouchat v. Bon-Ton Department Stores (and several hundred others) (4th Cir. 2007), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: 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.]

Simms v. Jones (N.D. Tex. 2013), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: 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. [Several decisions addressing this nightmare situation.]

O’Connell v. New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2001), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: Addressing responsibility of New York Giants and stadium owner for injury sustained when a Giants fan slipped on snow and ice in the stadium. He was en route to the bathroom and pushed while waiting to pass a fight that had broken out in the seats. [Naturally. Giants fans. Hooligans!]

Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football Company (Ohio 1996), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: 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. [This is The Fortune Cookie (1966) with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Great law, insurance and football movie.]

Coniglio v. Highwood Services, Inc. (2nd Cir. 1974), [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]: The court held 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.]

The number and variety of cases involving the National Football League provides a clear statement that litigation surrounding the game is extensive. This observation was also made by one court nearly 40 forty years ago -- 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.” Coniglio v. Highwood Services, Inc. (2nd Cir. 1974).

Coverage Opinions is a bi-weekly (or more frequently) electronic newsletter reporting or providing commentary on just-issued decisions from courts nationally addressing insurance coverage disputes. Coverage Opinions focuses on decisions that concern numerous issues under commercial general liability and professional liability insurance policies. For more information visit www.coverageopinions.info.

The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of his firm or its clients. The information contained herein shall not be considered legal advice. You are advised to consult with an attorney concerning how any of the issues addressed herein may apply to your own situation. Coverage Opinions is gluten free but may contain peanut products.

    Randy Maniloff is Counsel at White and Williams, LLP in Philadelphia. He previously served as a firm Partner for seven years and transitioned to a Counsel position to pursue certain writing projects including Coverage Opinions . Nonetheless he still maintains a full-time practice at the firm. Randy concentrates his practice in the representation of insurers in coverage disputes over primary and excess obligations under a host of policies, including commercial general liability and various professional liability policies, such as public official’s, law enforcement, educator’s, media, computer technology, architects and engineers, lawyers, real estate agents, community associations, environmental contractors, Indian tribes and several others. Randy has significant experience in coverage for environmental damage and toxic torts, liquor liability and construction defect, including additional insured and contractual indemnity issues. Randy is co-author of “General Liability Insurance Coverage - Key Issues In Every State” (Oxford University Press, 2nd Edition, 2012). For the past twelve years Randy has published a year-end article that addresses the ten most significant insurance coverage decisions of the year completed.

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