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There are, as of this writing, still two active lawsuits against the NFL and/or its member teams regarding the prescription of painkillers to players. Dent v. NFL was filed in the District Court of Northern California in May 2014 and claimed the league withheld medical information from players, oversaw acquisition and dispensing of medications, and violated state and federal prescription drug laws. A year later, Etopia Evans v. Arizona Cardinals was filed in Maryland but moved to the same court and judge as Dent. The Evans case makes many of the same legal claims as Dent, but against the member teams instead of the league.
In addition, the NFL Players Association recently filed a grievance against the league, citing the same factual allegations as the lawsuits, but claiming these actions violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the Players Association. So how does the grievance differ from the lawsuits? And how might it affect existing litigation?
As noted by the NFLPA grievance, the 2011 CBA between the NFL and Players Association place new requirements on teams regarding player treatment, including:
The NFLPA claims that the "NFL and its member Clubs have continuously, egregiously disregarded these explicit CBA requirements as they apply to the proper, legal, medically ethical prescription, dispensing, and transportation of prescription painkillers."
Unlike a lawsuit, which, barring a settlement, would lead to a jury trial, the NFLPA is threatening the league with arbitration where a neutral arbitrator could find that the NFL violated the CBA and order it to comply.
The NFL had already won a Motion to Dismiss the claims in the Dent case, by arguing that the CBA preempted any legal claims made by the plaintiffs. While that ruling is on appeal, the NFL itself used the grievance to bolster its argument that any dispute about painkillers be waged out of court. And while the allegations detailed in the grievance could potentially bolster the claims made in Evans against the member teams, that lawsuit suffered a major setback last week when the same judge who dismissed the entire Dent case dismissed many of the biggest Evans claims as well.
The NFL's use of some damning allegations to squirm out of litigation is a bold move, and we'll see if it works out in the long run.