June 7 (Bloomberg) -- National Football League team owners asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit filed by players who accuse the league of violating federal antitrust laws.
The NFL owners filed a two-page dismissal request yesterday with U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in St. Paul, Minnesota, just three days after they asked a federal appeals court in St. Louis to overturn Nelson’s April 25 order directing them to end their player lockout.
“It is baseless,” James W. Quinn, a lawyer for players, said of the request.
Ten players led by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sued the league on March 11 after negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement failed and the National Football League Players Association announced it would no longer function as a union. NFL owners declared the lockout at midnight that night.
The New York-based league is the wealthiest in U.S. pro sports. At issue in the dispute between players and owners is how to divide about $9 billion in revenue, plus an extension of the season from 16 to 18 games and a rookie salary cap.
While Nelson ordered league owners to end their lockout, during which players are barred from accessing team training facilities, coaches and staff, the appellate court on May 16 granted the NFL’s request to delay enforcement of her ruling until it decides the underlying appeal.
On June 3, attorneys for the league told the three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals panel that the players’ disavowal of their union was a ploy to avoid antitrust law exemptions that were in effect during labor negotiations.
“This is a labor dispute, not an antitrust problem,” Paul D. Clement, a lawyer for the owners, told the appeals court, arguing the issue belongs before the National Labor Relations Board, not the courts.
Players’ lawyer Theodore Olson countered that the league engages in anticompetitive practices and that the players preferred the protections of federal antitrust laws to those afforded by being in a union.
“The players did not want to be in the union anymore,” he said during the appellate argument.
Greg Aiello, a spokesman for the NFL, declined to comment on the league’s filing yesterday.
The NFL has requested a hearing date of Sept. 12 and said it would file papers supporting its dismissal request no later than Aug. 1.
The lower court case is Brady v. National Football League, 11-cv-639, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (St. Paul). The appellate case is Brady v. National Football League, 11-1898, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (St. Louis).
--Editors: Michael Hytha, Peter Blumberg
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