In a decision that is significant but not surprising, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in favor of the NFL on Friday, five weeks after hearing oral arguments on whether the league could lock out its players.
The lockout will remain in place, something the appellate court strongly indicated in its preliminary opinion in May.
The 34-page decision comes as, by all accounts, the NFL and players are making substantial progress toward a new labor deal, a critical juncture considering training camps and exhibition games are less than a month away.
"Obviously this appears to be a great victory for the owners," said Stanford law professor William B. Gould, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. "But both sides had to be bargaining in anticipation of this kind of ruling."
The three-judge panel voted 2-1 in favor of overturning the April 25 decision of U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson, who ruled the lockout should be lifted. The appeals said Nelson ignored federal law in reaching her decision.
"Whatever the effects of the union's disclaimer on the League's immunity from antitrust liability, the labor dispute did not suddenly disappear just because the Players elected to pursue the dispute through antitrust litigation rather than collective bargaining," the decision stated.
The 8th Circuit ruled that the Norris-LaGuardia Act prevents courts from blocking lockouts, as opposed to simply strikes, and therefore can be a tool for both employees and employers.
In essence, that means the 8th Circuit views the lawsuit brought by the players — the so-called Tom Brady suit — as a labor issue and not an antitrust case.
Meanwhile, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, head of the decertified players union, met at a law firm in Manhattan for a second consecutive day of negotiations that have gone on with some regularity in recent weeks.