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Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Why did Vilma not sue the NFL?

Mike's SI piece on the Vilma lawsuit got mentioned on Slate's Hang Up and Listen podcast this week. I disagree with a couple of points that Mike makes (and that the HU&L guys largely repeat): I do not believe there is any chance the claim is frivolous, although the issue of whether the whole thing is preempted by the NLRA and the CBA is an interesting one (the answer to which I have no idea). It seems to me that while the CBA gave Goodell a great deal of investigatory and sanction power over the players, it did not give him license to defame players and that possible defamation did not become the subject of bargaining. As to forum, I wrote previously that there is a nice issue of whether Goodell is subject to personal jurisdiction in Louisiana, although the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the case can be heard there.

But I now want to pose a different question: Why did Vilma sue only Goodell and not the NFL on a respondeat superior theory? The answer depends on two questions that I hope people can answer.

One possibility is that the NFL is a party to the CBA (Goodell is not), so suing the other contracting party makes the possible labor preemption more obvious. Is that possible?

A second possibility is that Vilma wants to be in federal court and was worried that the NFL might somehow destroy complete diversity and thus federal jurisdiction. That explanation depends on my second question: What is the precise organizational status of the National Football League? Is that an independent entity and, if so, what is its form and make-up? Or is it owned by some other entity and, if so, what is the form and make-up of that entity? While the league has its offices in New York, that only matters if it is a corporation; if it is a partnership or a limited liability company, its citizenship is based on the citizenship of all of its partners or members. And if some of those are from Florida (Vilma's home state), this case cannot be in federal court. So who, exactly, does Goodell work for and what is its nature and structure?

Update: Tom's comment gets us part way there, but only part way. A partnership's citizenship is determined by the citizenship of every partner. So we need to know about all the general and limited partner of Miami Dolphins Ltd. The general partner is "South Florida Football Associates LLC," which is headquartered in New York. Its managing member is Stephen Ross. Is Ross a Florida citizen? According to Wikipedia, he resides in New York. Of course, there also are the famous limited partners that Ross brought on, such as Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Marc Anthony, and the Williams sisters. Gloria for sure is a Florida citizen. Not sure if she and the others are partners in the partnership or members of the LLC. But either way, they make Miami Dolphins Ltd. a Florida citizen which makes the NFL a Florida citizen. So suing the NFL probably would have destroyed diversity and Vilma wanted to be in federal court. Of course, that is surprising, given the "local bias" rationales underlying diversity jurisdiction. I would have expected Vilma to want to be in state court in Louisiana.


This will answer your question regarding how the NFL is organized. The NFL is an unincorporated association of 32 separately owned teams.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/30/2012 5:56 PM  

In general, as an attorney, you sue everyone upon whom you could possibly collect. The obvious situation here between Vilma and Goodell is personal. Vilma may not care so much about the money and is trying to "hurt" the person who punished/hurt him. Goodell clearly made a personal attack against Vilma and in return Vilma is making a personal attack against Goodell. Attorneys are generally more concerned about finding the party who has the assets to collect against should a judgment be issued by the court. I don't think Vilma cares as much about the money. Further, Goodell is likely collectable against anyways.

Blogger Brandon Phillips -- 5/30/2012 6:02 PM  

Per the Appellants' Corporate Disclosure Statement filed to the Eight Circuit last year, the NFL is an unincorporated association organized under the laws of New York. One of its members is Miami Dolphins, Ltd., which a search on Florida's Division of Corporation's website tells me is a Florida LP. There's your answer.

Blogger Tom -- 5/30/2012 7:26 PM  

Perhaps he needs to be named in his individual capacity because a claim against the NFL, as Goodell's employer, would be otherwise barred by something such as a workers' compensation act exclusivity provision. For example, generally speaking, in Massachusetts, the workers' compensation act is the exclusive remedy for all tort claims arising out of the the employment relationship unless it can be shown that the tortfeasor's actions were outside the course of his employment.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/31/2012 3:32 PM  

I think the likeliest reason is to enhance the separation of the claim from the CBA and it's relief provisions. I'm not sure that defamation would be covered by workers comp, but it could be covered by exclusivity provisions of the CBA. That defense is much weaker when Goodell is the sole defendant.

Blogger SportsBiz -- 6/03/2012 12:38 PM  

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