NFL Settlement Opt-Outs Bound for Minnesota
(CN) - Opt-outs from a multimillion-dollar settlement over the publicity rights of older professional football players must still litigate in Minnesota where the original case is wrapping up, a federal judge ruled.
John Dryer is the lead plaintiff in the 2009 Minnesota federal class action, which alleged that the National Football League and its filmmaking arm, NFL Films, made billions by repackaging and selling the identities of thousands of retired football players who received nothing in return.
The league "trades on the 'glory days' of the NFL as a marketing and advertising technique," but never compensates the retired players who created those days, the class claimed.
Meanwhile many of the 1960s and '70s players, who earned their reputations before the era of multimillion-dollar salaries, allegedly struggle now to receive health care for permanent injuries.
Dryer gained fame after football as TV's "Hunter." Other notable plaintiffs include Hall-of-Famer Elvin Bethea and quarterback Dan Pastorini.
The players were allegedly never paid for NFL Films' profitable retellings of games. Indeed, the NFL did not even begin requiring players to sign contracts allowing it to use their images and identities for marketing and promotion until 1993, the complaint states.
Late last year, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in Minneapolis approved a settlement that required the NFL to pay players $7.55 million for false endorsement, violations of right of publicity, and unjust enrichment.
The deal lets players for the first time ever pursue commercial interests in their own images and as part of their former teams with NFL copyrights and trademarks.
Sidelining objections to the settlement, Magnuson found that many players' "noble motivations have now been trampled by some individual plaintiffs' baser instincts, namely the lure of what their attorneys promise is lucrative financial payouts from the NFL."
Several suits filed by more than 2,100 players and heirs who opted out of the settlement have since been consolidated in Minneapolis.
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan in Pittsburgh transferred two more cases to Minnesota on April 24.
Denise Tatum, the widow of Oakland Raider Jack Tatum, the "Assassin" who left New England Patriot Darryl Stingley paralyzed in 1978, is the lead plaintiff in one case.
The lawyers in Tatum also represent the plaintiff in the second case, former Atlanta Falcon Alexander "Woody" Thompson, who played in the late 1970s.
Lenihan tossed aside the plaintiffs' claim that they could not coordinate discovery because the trial date for Dryer is set and the case has been pending for four and a half years.
"Because the special master in the Dryer opt-out action has stated that the trial would not go on as scheduled and has extended the schedule, it seems that these concerns are unpersuasive as these opt-out actions can be coordinated if plaintiffs' action is transferred," Lenihan wrote.
The case meets all factors set forth for transfer in the 3rd Circuit's 1995 decision, Jumara v. State Farm Ins. Co., according to the ruling.
"Plaintiffs' action arises from the same prior class action as the Dryer opt-out action currently before Judge Magnuson in the District of Minnesota," Lenihan wrote. "Further, they name identical defendants who assert identical defenses and their action involves the same claims of false endorsement, publicity rights, and unjust enrichment as found in Dryer. It would be a waste of judicial resources to have these substantially similar cases heard in two different jurisdictions. This is especially true when one considers the risk of inconsistent decisions presented by this situation."
The most lucrative sporting group in the world, the National Football League reportedly reaped more than $9 billion in revenue last year.