A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the family of deceased professional football player Aaron Hernandez, which sought $20 million from the National Football League over head injuries the former New England Patriots tight end sustained during his career.
The lawsuit, which was initially filed in a Massachusetts state court by Hernandez’s daughter, was dismissed Thursday by U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Brody is overseeing the class action settlement that is aimed at compensating ex-NFL players for concussion-related brain injuries.
The plaintiff, referred to in court papers as A.H., had argued that her lawsuit should be allowed to proceed outside the broader class action settlement, but Brody rejected that argument, saying Hernandez fit into the definition of a “retired player” under the settlement agreement, and failed to properly opt out of the class action settlement.
“Because A.H. did not plead that Hernandez was taking active steps towards employment as an NFL football player as of July 7, 2014, and because it would have been impossible for Hernandez to do so while indefinitely incarcerated, Hernandez is a retired football player within the meaning of the settlement,” Brody said in her 19-page order. “Allowing A.H.’s suit to proceed would be allowing the ‘relitigation of settled question at the core’ of the NFL settlement.”
A.H.’s attorney, Bradford Sohn of Coral Gables, Florida, said he will review the ruling and potentially appeal.
“I have enormous respect and continue to have enormous respect for Judge Brody and the work that’d been done in connection with this settlement, but I do find myself still struggling to find the reasoning behind this specific opinion,” he said. “Upon satisfying our concerns we will take the necessary next steps. That will be an appeal, or a number of other possibilities as well.”
Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison attorney Brad Karp, who is representing the NFL, did not return a call seeking comment.
The lawsuit was first filed in October 2017 in Massachusetts Superior Court, and it alleged the NFL exposed the former tight end to repeated head injuries, which led him to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE—a condition linked to violent behavior and suicide. Hernandez, who played professional football between 2010 and 2013, was convicted of murder in 2015 and committed suicide while in prison in April 2017.
The NFL later removed the suit to federal court, and then sought to dismiss the claim, saying A.H. was a class member under the class action agreement.
Although A.H. contended that the federal court did not have jurisdiction over the claims, Brody said she did not need to consider jurisdiction before determining whether the case was precluded by the settlement agreement.
“Here, it is proper to decide claim preclusion on the NFL parties’ motion to dismiss because claim preclusion is apparent on the face of the complaint,” Brody said. “The only facts relevant to claim preclusion are the dates of Hernandez’s confinement and the content of the settlement agreement, both of which are public records.”