Second Circuit Affirms Denial of NFL Player’s Petition to Vacate Arbitration Award, Rejecting Arguments of Harm Caused by Failure to Disclose CBA-Related Documents

Carlton Fields
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Carlton Fields

The case was brought by Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle David Lane Johnson against the NFL Players Association, the NFL, and the NFL Management Council related to a 10-game suspension for using performance-enhancing substances. The collective bargaining agreement at issue included a policy regarding testing, discipline, and an arbitration appeal process for players found to be in violation. When Johnson appealed his suspension under the policy, the arbitrator issued an award upholding Johnson’s discipline. Johnson then sued the Players Association, the Management Council, and the NFL, seeking vacatur of the arbitration award and asserting claims for breach of the duty of fair representation, breach of the collective bargaining agreement, and violation of his rights under various labor laws. The district court denied Johnson’s petition for vacatur, confirmed the arbitration award, dismissed certain of Johnson’s claims, and ultimately granted summary judgment against Johnson as to all remaining claims.

On appeal, the Second Circuit rejected Johnson’s argument that the Players Association’s “failure to provide him with documents including ‘the complete Policy, his discipline file, and his testing history file’ amounted to a ‘per se‘ breach of its duty of fair representation.” Even assuming the failure of a union to produce documents constituted a breach, which the court indicated was unprecedented, Johnson still could not identify how the failure of the Players Association to provide these documents affected the outcome of his arbitration.

The Second Circuit also ruled that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to the Players Association on Johnson’s claim that the union failed to provide him with copies of “side agreements” to the Management Council’s policy. The court was not persuaded by Johnson’s arguments, including that Johnson was entitled to damages for the late production of documents by the Players Association. Johnson was unable to dispute (1) the evidence in the record that all relevant documents had been produced; and (2) that there was no showing of any impact on the arbitral outcome or of bad faith.

The Second Circuit also affirmed the denial of the motion to vacate the arbitration award based on Johnson’s argument that he lacked a full and fair hearing. The Second Circuit concluded, “Johnson was given clear notice of the contemplated disciplinary action that was to be taken against him, the appeal was heard by a qualified arbitrator, and he had a full and fair opportunity to present arguments. That was more than sufficient under our precedent to confirm the award.”

Johnson v. National Football League Players Association, No. 19-2734 (2d Cir. July 17, 2020).

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