Despite unsuccessful efforts by the NFL Players Association to challenge the discipline imposed by the NFL Tom Brady And the Ezekiel Elliot In court, the current efforts to impose discipline on Deshaun Watson It can also be challenged at the end.
Brady won at first, before the three-judge appellate panel found (by a 2-1 vote) that Commissioner Roger Goodell had acted correctly within his collectively negotiated rights. Elliott won at the start, too.
At the end of the day, eight judges heard the cases of Brady and Elliot. They split, 4-4, over whether Goodell or the players should prevail.
In that case, if the NFLPA and/or Watson dispute the end result, another effort can be made to challenge the case in court. The question becomes whether Watson’s side will be able to bring the case up in a favorable forum before the league can file its own lawsuit in New York federal court, seeking a declaration that the ruling is legally defensible.
If the case reaches a federal court in New York, the appeal decision from the Brady case becomes directly relevant to Watson. The former may obligate any decision. (Then again, as we all learned five days ago, the precedent is only as binding as the judges decide it should be.)
One way judges can avoid a supposedly binding precedent is to “distinguish” between the facts of the current situation and the facts of the previous case. The facts of the Watson case are likely to become discernible based on the fact that the procedures for imposing discipline and appealing the decision have changed.
One major difference comes from the fact that Judge Sue L. Robinson “will be obligated” to the parties during the appeal process. If Justice Robinson framed her written findings and conclusions a certain way, it could be very difficult for Goodell to simply thank her for her service and carry out the punishment that the league’s office (which Goodell controls) wanted in the first place.
Thus, while Tuesday night’s leak of a presumed desire by the league not to appeal the decision if it falls within the scope of a six- or eight-game suspension could be aimed at prompting Judge Robinson not to make a non-appealable determination of no discipline. If imposed, it is also possible that the league will realize that overturning its decision to impose six or eight games without a valid reason to do so amounts to jumping with both feet into the litigation trap.