The NFL has once again thwarted a lawsuit brought by former players who claim they were inappropriately administered painkillers during their playing days to keep them on the field.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California found that the former players couldn’t support their claims that the league was negligent—the sole remaining claim in the case after nearly five years of litigation. Alsup found that the athletes hadn’t alleged the NFL itself distributed prescription medications in violation of state and federal drug laws.
“Significantly, plaintiffs do not make any specific, plausible allegation that the relevant statutes apply to the NFL, let alone that the NFL violated those statutes,” wrote Alsup, in a 15-page order issued Thursday. “Despite ninety pages of allegations (largely directed to the clubs’ conduct), nowhere in the third amended complaint do plaintiffs allege, as they previously pitched before our court of appeals, that the NFL undertook to provide direct medical care and treatment to players such that its conduct violated any relevant drug laws,” he wrote.
Lawyers at Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd and Silverman Thompson Slutkin White, who represent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Richard Dent and nine other retired players in the case, didn’t immediately respond to messages Friday. The plaintiffs originally sued the league in May 2014 seeking to represent a class of more than 1,000 former players with claims that painkillers were handed out by trainers without medical licenses and without proper prescriptions at alarming rates.
Alsup previously dismissed an earlier complaint in the case finding that the players’ claims fell under the medical care outlined in their collective bargaining agreement and, therefore, were pre-empted by the federal Labor Management Relations Act. A Ninth Circuit panel last September, however, reversed Alsup, finding the players were “not merely alleging that the NFL failed to prevent medication abuse by the teams, but that the NFL itself illegally distributed controlled substances”—something not covered in the collective bargaining agreement.
In Thursday’s decision, Alsup said that the players couldn’t show the league had “proactive involvement with medication distribution” as they had assured the appellate court that revived the lawsuit. Instead, Alsup found that the players were trying to hinge their claims on the league’s monitoring of its teams.
“Having convinced our court of appeals that they were alleging that the NFL itself directly provided medical care and supplied drugs to players, plaintiffs may not bob and weave back to old theories of negligence that, in essence, amount to the NFL’s failure to intervene.” Alsup wrote.
Despite dismissing the case, Alsup made sure to note that his ruling shouldn’t ”minimize the underlying societal issue and the need to protect the health and safety of our professional athletes.”
The NFL’s defense team includes lawyers from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Skadden’s Jack DiCanio on Friday referred a request for comment to a league representative, who did not immediately respond to an email message.