Super Bowl LII is upon us. In fact, the pre-game show has already started. And while football is the national pastime, litigation is a close second. So what better way to deal with any lull in the action than a discussion of the substantial number of lawsuits that surround the National Football League, its players and fans.
Besides the concussion suits that have gained much attention, other NFL-related cases involve such things as licensing, intellectual property, antitrust, use of players’ likenesses, collective bargaining, labor and draft issues, stadium issues, taxes, workers’ compensation, player eligibility, banned substances, broadcast issues and, wait, wasn’t there a little something about a football that was deflated?
That there is a lot of NFL litigation is not surprising. The league is a huge business, has one of the highest of all profiles and is very protective of its brand, image and intellectual property. The NFL would sue Mother Teresa if they caught her wearing a knock-off Saints jersey.
As the following cases demonstrate, many involve the league, its teams and fans that are unique, entertaining and eyebrow-raising—some involving things you’d never even imagine. These cases are sure to generate plenty of discussion during the big game, in case there are no Justin Timberlake fans in your house.
Brown v. National Football League (Southern District of New York 2002): Player’s suit for damages, from being struck in the eye by a referee’s penalty flag weighted with BB pellets, did not implicate the collective bargaining agreement between the players’ union and teams. (The procedure for filing a notice of appeal: Throw a red challenge flag on the courthouse steps.)
Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals (10th Circuit 1979): Holding that a professional football player intentionally struck by another player has the right to pursue a tort action. The court rejected the trial court’s decision that the only remedy a player has, for receiving an unlawful blow during a game, is retaliation.
Jaguar Cars v. National Football League (Southern District of New York 1995): Addressing jurisdictional issues in a case by an automobile manufacturer, Jaguar Cars Ltd., alleging that the Jacksonville Jaguars’ use of the name Jaguar was trademark infringement in violation of the Lanham Act.
Coniglio v. Highwood Services (2nd Circuit 1974): Holding that it was not a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act for a professional football team to require a person wishing to purchase season tickets to also purchase tickets to pre-season games. (Such practice may not be a violation of the Sherman Act, but it is a violation of morality.)
Mayer v. Belichick (3rd Circuit 2010): Holding that Jets season ticket holder could not maintain fraud and racketeering claims against the New England Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick for surreptitiously videotaping the Jets coaches and players on the field to steal their signals and coaching instructions. (Did the Pats really need such elaborate efforts to beat the Jets?)
Titlecraft v. National Football League (District of Minnesota 2010): Holding that a trophy manufacturer’s fantasy football league trophy, looking similar to the Vince Lombardi Trophy, awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl, violated the league’s copyright.
Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association v. National Football League (Minnesota Court of Appeal 2015): Holding that, for purposes of off duty peace officers carrying weapons, the Minnesota Citizens’ Personal Protection Act does not prevent the Vikings from complying with the NFL’s policy of prohibiting firearms within stadiums.
White v. National Football League (8th Circuit 2009): Holding that Michael Vick was not required to repay the Atlanta Falcons $16 million in bonuses for the remaining years of his contract that the quarterback was unable to perform after being indefinitely suspended by the NFL on account of pleading guilty to federal dog fighting charges.
Reed v. National Football League (Central District of Califiornia 2015): Rejecting a claim for damages from an individual who alleged that the NFL stole his idea for a football version of the television program “American Idol” (“[A] contest-type reality television series where men compete against each other in football-related contests. Contestants would be graded by real NFL scouts who will follow the official combine measuring process. The top performers will win a cash prize and an all-expense paid trip to visit with an NFL team and coaches, watch them practice, and sit on the sidelines during a game.”).
Louie v. National Football League (Southern District of New York 2002): Rejecting fans’ claim that the NFL’s Super Bowl ticket lottery system violated the Americans with Disabilities Act because it disenfranchised disabled customers of their right to obtain available accessible seats.
Bossier v. National Football League (Eastern District of Louisiana 2003): Rejecting fraudulent joinder argument in a case brought by an individual who was injured while punting in the NFL Experience at Super Bowl XXXVI. When light rain created unfavorable conditions for punting, wood chips were spread over the kicking area.
Bouchat v. Bon-Ton Department Stores (4th Circuit 2007): An amateur artist faxed a sketch for a proposed Baltimore Ravens logo to the team. He said that if they used the logo he wanted a letter of recognition and autographed helmet. The Ravens adopted a logo that had a remarkable resemblance to the artist’s sketch. Years of litigation ensued. (So much for that helmet.)
Sims v. Jones (Northern District Texas 2013): Court denied class certification to Super Bowl ticket holders who were denied or delayed access to the game or moved to lesser-quality seats because temporary seats were not ready by game time.
Gallagher v. Cleveland Browns Football (Ohio 1996): Addressing a claim by an on-field video cameraman injured when a Houston Oilers receiver and Cleveland Browns defender collided while going for a ball that was overthrown to the end zone.
Finkelman v. National Football League (3rd Circuit 2017): Holding that a New York Giants fan had standing to maintain an action alleging that the NFL’s withholding of 99 percent of Super Bowl tickets from the general public, for Super Bowl XLVIII (in New Jersey), violated New Jersey’s Ticket Law (part of the state’s Consumer Protection Act).
The extensive litigation involving the NFL was noted by the Coniglio court nearly 40 years ago—incredibly, before every other case on this list was decided: “Whatever else might be said about professional football in the United States, it does seem to breed a hardy group of fans who do not fear litigation combat,” the Coniglio court noted.
Randy Maniloff is an insurance coverage attorney at White and Williams in Philadelphia.