Adrian Peterson, in a comeback year of sorts, won the NFL rushing title and led the Minnesota Vikings to their first playoff appearance since 2012. With all of the other off the field issues swirling around the NFL right now (the Peyton Manning HGH allegations, possible relocation of a team(s) to Los Angeles), it seems like a long time since Peterson’s legal troubles were grabbing headlines.
I assure you; however, the impact of Peterson’s legal case is far from over. In fact, it will be back in headlines – and impacting other NFL disciplinary matters – in the very near future.
The timeliest of these matters is Deflategate, where Tom Brady’s lawyers have relied on the lower court’s holding in Peterson’s case. Because the appellate decision will almost certainly be released prior to oral argument in Deflategate, and because appeals decisions are more important precedent than decisions in lower courts, the Peterson appeal figures to have a large impact on Deflategate. Depending on the outcome, it could be favorable to either side.
The Peterson Appeal
After Judge Doty of the federal District Court of Minnesota vacated Peterson’s season long suspension in February 2015, the NFL appealed the decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (which hears cases from Minnesota, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota). The issues on appeal in the Peterson appeal differ from Deflategate, but (at least in the NFLPA/Brady’s view) relate to how Deflategate should be decided. They include:
- Whether Judge Doty accurately concluded that the NFL’s arbitration officer (Harold Henderson) exceeded his authority by considering whether the suspension Peterson received was consistent with the Personal Conuct Policy in effect at the time of his conduct (instead of just looking at whether the new policy was retroactively applied).
- Whether Judge Doty accurately concluded that the NFL failed to provide Peterson with adequate notice that he could be suspended for a season for this type of conduct.
Check here for full copies of the Peterson appeal briefing and a recording of the oral argument.
When Can We Expect a Decision?[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Expect the opinion any day now and almost certainly before the March 3rd Deflategate oral argument.[/pullquote] The Eighth Circuit Appeals Court “strives to issue an opinion within 90 days after oral argument.” This is no guarantee but the Eighth Circuit is known for its timeliness. Based on the most recent study, the Eighth Circuit is the fastest of all the federal appellate courts (there are 13) in issuing a final disposition of a case after a notice of appeal is filed (the average time is six months).
Peterson’s appeal was argued on October 19th – 90 days after this date is January 17th. In other words, we can expect the opinion any day now and almost certainly before the March 3rd Deflategate oral argument.
How Does This Impact Deflategate
As an initial matter, it is important to note that a federal appeals court opinion is stronger legal precedent than a district court (trial level) opinion and any internal NFL appeal (such as Bountygate and Ray Rice). So when the three-judge panel reads the Peterson Eighth Circuit opinion – and they certainly will – they will rely on the Peterson opinion more than the other cases cited in the NFLPA brief.
This is why appealing the Peterson decision was very risky for the NFL. If they lose (and the majority of appellants do), they set a strong negative precedent for future cases, including Deflategate.
Speaking of Deflategate, Brady’s lawyers cite to the Peterson trial court opinion (as well as the Greg Hardy, Ray Rice, and Boutygate reversals) for the proposition that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s Article 46 “conduct detrimental” authority is constrained by the requirement that under the CBA, a player must be provided notice that he could be suspended for certain conduct. The NFL argues that these cases do not apply, but they could be changing their tune if the Peterson appeal goes in the NFL’s favor.
How this could help Brady: This gives Brady yet another – even stronger – precedent to rely on to show that Judge Berman correctly held that Brady did not have notice that he could be suspended for four games for being “generally aware” of the actions of others. Furthermore, this weakens the NFL’s argument that Goodell had wide sweeping power to suspend under the “conduct detrimental” standard.
How this could help the NFL: The NFL has more to gain by an unlikely win in Peterson. If the NFL wins (and this would depending on the reasoning of the Eighth Circuit), the decision would likely significantly undercut the NFLPA’s notice arguments and support the argument that Goodell’s “conduct detrimental” power extended to situations similar to this. Would this be a slam-dunk for the NFL in the Deflategate appeal? No. Keep in mind that Judge Berman vacated the suspension on multiple grounds including that the NFL improperly withheld witness testimony and documents. Moreover, Berman reserved judgment on numerous other issues, which could still be winning arguments if the case is remanded back to him.
In any event, due to the unique subject matter and timing, the Peterson appeal decision has the potential to change the landscape of the Deflategate appeal. Keep an eye out for the opinion in the next day, week, or month.