Tom Brady and his legal team have made it official — the Patriots’ star quarterback is suing the NFL.
Brady’s attorneys filed a petition to vacate an arbitration award in US District Court in Minneapolis on Wednesday evening, arguing that Brady’s four-game suspension violates binding rulings from the Adrian Peterson lawsuit earlier this year, “and gives the back of the hand to the fundamental arbitral principles concerning procedural fairness and arbitrator bias.”
Brady seeks to have his entire punishment overturned on the grounds that commissioner Roger Goodell was inherently biased in serving as the arbitrator of the appeal, and that Brady was given no notice on the severity of punishments given to him for his “non-cooperation” with the NFL’s investigation.
Brady was initially given a four-game suspension in May for being “generally aware” of a ball-deflation scheme perpetrated by members of the Patriots’ equipment staff, and Goodell upheld the ruling on Tuesday, five weeks after Brady appealed the decision.
“It’s completely against the essence of the CBA,” Jeffrey Kessler, Brady’s lead attorney and the outside counsel for the NFL Players Association, told the Globe in a telephone conversation late Wednesday. “We’ve long believed that a biased arbitrator was likely to yield a biased result, so I can say that we’re disappointed, but not entirely surprised.”
Brady was permitted to file the lawsuit anywhere in the country because the NFL does business in all 50 states, and he chose US District Court in Minneapolis, which generally has ruled in the union’s favor in several landmark cases over the years.
The case has initially been assigned to judge Richard Kyle, but the NFLPA filed the petition as a related case to the Peterson lawsuit against the NFL in the hopes that judge David Doty would also hear the Brady appeal. Doty ruled to vacate Peterson’s suspension in February, and he has ruled in the NFLPA’s favor many times over the years.
As a preventative measure, the NFL filed its own lawsuit in New York on Tuesday, asking a judge to affirm the league’s decision and attempting to force any potential Brady lawsuit to be heard in New York. The union and NFL will now battle over the location of the lawsuit — New York or Minnesota.
Brady filed the lawsuit on the eve of the first training camp practice of the Patriots’ 2015 season, and he requested a Sept. 4 deadline — for either a full judgment, or the issuance of an injunction to allow Brady to play for the Patriots until the lawsuit is decided. The Patriots’ first regular-season game is Sept. 10.
This is the second time Brady has sued the NFL, as he was one of 10 players to put his name on the union’s antitrust lawsuit during the 2011 lockout. But Kessler assured that Brady won’t miss any football time to deal with this suit.
“It will not be a diversion on his time in any way, shape or form,” Kessler said. “This is basically the lawyers arguing a legal issue. There’s no evidentiary hearing, there’s no trial, nothing like that.”
In its petition, Brady’s attorneys highlighted the Peterson case several times, and how the court ruled that the NFL’s “law of the shop under the CBA affords players advance notice of potential discipline.”
Kessler stressed that Brady had no notice that he could be held liable for being “generally aware” of someone else’s actions; that the NFL applied the league’s “competitive integrity policy” to punish Brady but that the policy pertains only to teams, and is never distributed to players; and no notice that Brady could be suspended for altering equipment or not cooperating with an investigation.
The NFLPA said in a statement that “no player in NFL history has served a suspension for ‘non-cooperation’ or ‘obstruction.’ And, in this case, the evidence is paper-thin.”
Brady’s attorneys cited the ruling from former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue when he vacated the player suspensions in the Saints’ Bountygate scandal, stating, “There is no evidence of a record of past suspensions based purely on obstructing a league investigation.”
Brady also is suing the NFL on the grounds that Goodell was inherently partial, as was lead investigator Ted Wells, hired by the NFL as an “independent investigator.”
The lawsuit notes that “the purportedly independent Wells Report was edited by [Jeffrey] Pash, the NFL’s general counsel, before its public release.” The suit also notes that lawyers from Wells’s law form “actively participated as counsel for the NFL conducting direct and cross-examinations of witnesses.”
“True to form, Goodell’s award is little more than an exercise in rehashing the Wells Report, and making unfounded, provocative, and mystifying attacks on Brady’s integrity,” Brady’s attorneys wrote.