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Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended on Thursday night…again. Elliott has been running from his six-game suspension all season, but it appears that it finally caught up with him and he will actually miss playing time.
Elliott’s legal battle took many twists and turns, evolving into a multi-state affair involving the Eastern District of Texas, the Southern District of New York, and both of their corresponding Courts of Appeals (the Second and Fifth Circuits).
Elliott filed his claim in the Eastern District of Texas, which sided with Elliott in his attempt to gain a preliminary injunction that allowed him to play during his case against the NFL, but the Fifth Circuit reversed that judgment on the grounds that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction.
Litigation was also brought in the Southern District of New York, where the league sought a court order confirming the suspension. There, Judge Paul Crotty granted Elliott a temporary restraining order against the NFL while Judge Katherine Failla was away. Judge Failla ultimately ruled in favor of the NFL when she returned, reinstating the suspension.
In her decision, Judge Failla repeatedly cited the 2016 case involving Tom Brady and his attempt to gain a preliminary injunction against the NFL for an identical claim. In that case, the injunction was granted but Brady ultimately lost the case. While this precedent appeared to favor Elliott in that it established that NFL players missing games constituted irreparable harm, it also hurt Elliott’s case in that it made it unlikely that Elliott’s case would prevail on the merits. These are two of the four prongs that must be shown in order to gain a preliminary injunction.
In her ruling, Judge Failla surprisingly rejected Elliott’s argument that missing NFL games constituted irreparable harm:
“[F]uture economic injuries such as lost profits are compensable through monetary awards. And any individual honors Elliott might attain absent suspension depend on countless variables — such as the Cowboys’ overall offensive performance, his opponents’ defensive performance, and Elliott’s health — that together render this alleged harm far too speculative to justify injunctive relief. As for damage to Elliott’s reputation, cases in this Circuit require a more concrete economic impact than mere negative publicity to constitute irreparable harm.”
Judge Failla appeared to accept the NFL’s argument, including their threefold interest in confirming the suspension before the case was heard. These interests include: (1) players and teams should not be able to manipulate the discipline policy; (2) aspects of the discipline other than the suspension are also on holding (such as a mandatory screening that could lead to counseling); and (3) the league wants to take a strong stance on domestic violence.
Judge Failla’s ruling was reviewed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld her judgment on Thursday. This was Elliott’s best chance to reverse the judgment, as his only options now appear to be to request an en banc hearing or take the case to the Supreme Court. Considering the nature of the case and the fact that such appeals are only heard roughly one percent of the time, these do not seem like plausible means of obtaining relief.
It appears that Elliott’s run from his suspension has come to an end. He will almost certainly be suspended until at least December 1 (missing four games during that span).
Elliott still may have a chance to avoid the full six games of his suspension, however, as the Second Circuit granted him an expedited review of his appeal, during which a three-judge panel is scheduled to hear oral arguments on December 1. It is possible (albeit unlikely) that the judges determine the suspension should not have been in place and a temporary injunction should have been granted, which would allow his return to the field. This is an unlikely scenario, but it is at least possible.
The Second Circuit’s ruling ultimately means Elliott will be suspended this season. But this legal saga isn’t quite over just yet.
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