NFL Retirees Lose at 8th Circuit

     (CN) – The 8th Circuit dismissed a lawsuit from retired NFL players who challenged active players’ right to bargain on their behalf, finding that they had no reasonable expectation of winning more retiree benefits by bargaining on their own.
     The National Football League and the NFL Players Association in 2011 were unable to agree to terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, and a lockout commenced.
     It lasted from March to July 2011, when the parties signed a new collective bargaining agreement, which included $900 million in increased benefits for retired players.
     But some retired players were unhappy with the deal.
     A class of 28 retired players, led by Carl Eller, sued the NFL Players Association, Tom Brady and other active players in Federal Court, claiming the active players “had no authority to negotiate with the league the terms of pension, retirement, and disability benefits with respect to the class of retired NFL players described herein, something the NFLPA’s counsel already have conceded.”
     The Eller class also sued the NFLPA “for interfering intentionally with the prospective economic advantage of the putative class described herein and for breaches of fiduciary duties assumed by the NFLPA with respect to NFL retirees.”
     Retirees sought medical monitoring for brain injuries, and proposed that 2.5 percent of NFL revenue be set aside for retirees.
     The district court dismissed, finding that retired players “could not reasonably have expected to enter into a contract based on their own negotiating power as opposed to that of the active players,” and because “no reasonable jury could find the purported interference here to be ‘improper.'”
     The 8th Circuit affirmed the ruling Monday.
     “Given the undisputed history of labor relations and collective bargaining involving the NFL and its players, the factual allegations in plaintiffs lengthy complaint – which we accept as true – provide no plausible reason to believe that the NFL, having agreed with the active players to provide more than $900 million in increased contractual benefits for retired players in a new CBA, would be willing to separately negotiate even greater benefits directly with the retired player class,” Judge James Loken wrote for the three-judge panel.
     In addition, retired players are not members of a collective bargaining unit, and so could not negotiate their own agreement under federal labor laws.
     “Bargaining over pensioners’ rights has become an established industrial practice,” Loken wrote, citing precedent, so the active NFL players did not improperly interfere with retired players’ potential contract with the NFL.
     Minnesota law also recognizes a special privilege for competitors: that a competitor who causes a third party not to enter into a contractual relation with defendant’s competitor does not tortiously interfere with their business relations.
     “Plaintiffs alleged that the active players excluded retired player representatives from settlement negotiations that included retiree benefits in order to get a larger share of the total player revenues for themselves,” Loken wrote. “Under the competitor’s privilege, these allegations that defendants engaged in collective bargaining under the federal labor laws to further their own economic interests, even at the expense of plaintiffs’ economic interests, did not state a claim for tortious interference under Minnesota law.”

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