A federal judge denied the NFL Players Association’s request for a preliminary injunction in the Ezekiel Elliott case on Monday, meaning the Dallas Cowboys running back’s six-game suspension will be reinstated.
Judge Katherine P. Failla’s ruling will bar Elliott from playing as the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York reviews the NFLPA’s petition to void his six-game suspension. The ruling is stayed for 24 hours — meaning Elliott won’t be officially suspended until the stay expires Tuesday.
Failla issued the ruling stay in order to give both sides time to calculate how they want to proceed in the case.
In her ruling, Failla found the NFLPA failed to establish, among other things, the allegations of fundamental unfairness it raised against the league after Elliott’s suspension was upheld under arbitration.
“While reasonable minds could differ on the evidentiary decisions made by the arbitrator, the proceedings in their totality accorded with the CBA and the [personal conduct policy] — and, to the extent such an inquiry applies, with precepts of fundamental fairness,” Failla wrote. “The arbitrator gave Mr. Elliott ample opportunity, in terms of both proceedings and evidence, to challenge the Commissioner’s decision before the arbitrator; the arbitrator’s ultimate decision against Mr. Elliott does not render these proceedings any less fair.”
Elliott’s chances of returning to the field are growing smaller, but he still has legal options. The union could file an appeal with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to NFL Network legal analyst Gabe Feldman. Under that scenario, Elliott could still miss multiple games before a stay decision would be made.
The decision comes two weeks after the same court granted the union’s request for a temporary restraining order that put Elliott’s suspension on hold after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case. Failla turned down the NFL’s request for an expedited hearing last week, which allowed the second-year running back to play Sunday against the Washington Redskins. Elliott’s suspension has actually gone into effect two separate times this season, but he hasn’t missed a game.
Unless his lawyers manage to get his suspension lifted again, Elliott is set to miss the next six games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Redskins and New York Giants before being eligible to play in Week 15 against the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 17.
The Southern District of New York offers the best remaining opportunity for Elliott to have his suspension overturned, Feldman said. As NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported, Elliott’s 14-day window to file for a full-court rehearing — also known as a rehearing en banc — with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has expired. He could request for a rehearing “out of time” with the 5th Circuit, court case manager Amanda Sutton-Foy told Pelissero. But full-panel rehearings are rare. The 5th Circuit granted six en banc rehearings out of 200 petitions last year, according to Feldman. A federal appeals court rejected Tom Brady‘s en banc request during Deflategate.
Elliott was suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in August following a year-long investigation into domestic violence allegations made by Tiffany Thompson, his former girlfriend. The league concluded he violated its personal conduct policy, which mandates a six-game suspension for first-time domestic violence violations. Elliott, 22, was never charged and has denied wrongdoing.
The NFLPA’s lawsuit, which was filed on the same day Elliott’s appeal hearing ended, doesn’t try to undermine the factual conclusions from the NFL’s investigation — it challenges the process the league undertook to suspend Elliott, Feldman said. The NFL wants to enforce Elliott’s suspension this season and confirm Goodell’s authority to issue punishment based on “conduct detrimental” to the league as mandated in Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement.
It’s virtually the same argument the NFL deployed in ultimately successful appeals against Tom Brady during Deflategate and Adrian Peterson after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault.
Still, there could be a long way to go before a final decision is made on Elliott’s appeal.
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