Monday, April 25, 2016

U.S. Appeals Court Overturns Tom Brady Deflategate Decision

Suspension Ordered Reinstated

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today reversed the district court judge's decision in favor of Tom Brady, and ordered the district court to confirm the original award in favor of the NFL.  The court held that "the Commissioner properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness."

I am not at all surprised by this decision.  Under federal law, it is exceptionally difficult to overturn arbitration awards of any kind, as there is a strong national policy favoring arbitration.  Courts simply cannot redo every arbitration at the behest of the losing party. The court's opinion articulates the standard well:
  1. [A] federal court’s review of labor arbitration awards is narrowly circumscribed and highly deferential—indeed, among the most deferential in the law. Our role is not to determine for ourselves whether Brady participated in a scheme to deflate footballs or whether the suspension imposed by the Commissioner should have been for three games or five games or none at all. Nor is it our role to second‐guess the arbitrator’s procedural rulings. Our obligation is limited to determining whether the arbitration proceedings and award met the minimum legal standards . . .. We must simply ensure that the arbitrator was “even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority” and did not “ignore the plain language of the contract.” . . . These standards do not require perfection in arbitration awards. Rather, they dictate that even if an arbitrator makes mistakes of fact or law, we may not disturb an award so long as he acted within the bounds of his bargained‐for authority.
The question now is what happens next.  Brady can seek to have the entire appellate court review the case, or seek review in the Supreme Court, but both options are the legal equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.  Even for a quarterback as talented as Tom Brady.