October 31, 2017
After hearing arguments from the NFL and the NFL Players Association, U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla denied Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott’s request for a preliminary injunction to block his six-game suspension. The decision comes only two weeks after the same court had granted Elliott’s request for a temporary restraining order that had then frozen the suspension.
This was Elliott’s second request for a preliminary injunction since he received the suspension on August 11 following domestic violence allegations. The first request had been granted by a federal judge in Texas on September 8, but the injunction was lifted by the Fifth Circuit on October 12.
Judge Failla agreed with the NFL’s contention that it followed the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and held the NFL’s interest in rooting out domestic violence by players outweighed any harm Elliott would face by sitting out six games. “Having negotiated with the NFLPA over the terms of a particular CBA, the NFL has an interest in obtaining the benefit of its bargain — an interest that might well be eroded if courts such as this one were permitted to micromanage the disciplinary decisions of the commissioner,” Failla wrote. “And any individual honors Elliott might attain absent suspension depend on countless variables — such as the Cowboys’ overall offensive performance, his opponents’ defensive performance, and Elliott’s health — that together render this alleged harm far too speculative to justify injunctive relief.”
The judge also disagreed with the NFLPA’s claim that the arbitration hearing, in which Elliott attempted to appeal his suspension, was “fundamentally unfair,” and wrote that testimony made it clear that NFL commissioner Goodell was aware of an internal investigator’s view that the allegations against Elliott were not credible. “While reasonable minds could differ on the evidentiary decisions made by the arbitrator, the proceedings in their totality accorded with the CBA and the [personal conduct policy] — and, to the extent such an inquiry applies, with precepts of fundamental fairness,” Failla wrote. “The arbitrator gave Mr. Elliott ample opportunity, in terms of both proceedings and evidence, to challenge the Commissioner’s decision before the arbitrator; the arbitrator’s ultimate decision against Mr. Elliott does not render these proceedings any less fair.”
Elliott’s suspension has swung back and forth between upheld and frozen. His suspension has technically gone into effect two previous times already, but he has not yet missed a game this season. For more background about this case, see some of our prior posts here, here, here, here, and here.
If the suspension goes into effect, Elliott would be ineligible to play until the Cowboys’ game against the Oakland Raiders on December 17. Elliott and the NFLPA could seek a stay of the suspension from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which would allow him to again continue to play while the appeal process plays out — so we have not yet heard the last on this legal battle.