The Gregg Williams lawsuit has been removed to federal court and I have been able to view the pleadings and get a better sense of the lawsuit and what it means from a legal perspective. Pardon the lawyer talk but I am going to discuss the lawsuit in depth and post my thoughts on the legalities. Hey, if you ever get insomnia this might come in handy!
The lawsuit makes it clear Barrett Green is suing the Redskins, Robert Royal, and Gregg Williams for an injury to his left knee he claims was career ending. Barrett Greene was a linebacker drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2000 and who played for the New York Giants from 2004 to 2005. Greene’s lawsuit states that Greene was an “emerging star” when he signed a free agent deal with the New York Giants.
The alleged injury occurred his first year with the Giants. According to the lawsuit, Green had a spectacular game against the Redskins in the Giants first win of the season which came about on September 19, 2004. He returned a fumble for a touchdown to seal the victory. In the game that is the subject of the lawsuit, Green alleges Robert Royal, a tight end for the Redskins, injured him during a football play. Greene further admits he was already injured and listed as doubtful prior to that game for an injury to his left knee.
As an aside, internet reports indicate he injured his left knee on October 31, 2004 in a game against the Minnesota Vikings. More interestingly, these reports indicate he aggravated that knee injury on December 12, 2004 against Baltimore and then had surgery. Moreover, injury reports from 2002 indicate he had knee injury when he played for the Lions.
The gist of Greene’s claim is that the Redskins knew about the prior injury and that Williams deliberately instructed Royal, a tight end who played some on defense, to chop block Green and hit him in the knees and take him out of the game. Williams is further alleged to have instituted a bounty system similar to the bounty program arising out of his time with the Saints.
There is no real evidence cited in support of a bounty program in Washington outside a mention of an article that ran in the Washington Post on March 3, 2012 citing a former Redskins coach and 5 players who anonymously admitted Williams ran a bounty program in Washington. The majority of the allegations concerning the existence of a bounty program point to the NFL investigation into conduct that occurred while Williams was the defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints.
Green alleges the injury to his left knee required ACL reconstruction during the 2005 offseason and that he never fully recovered. It is interesting that he would have been required to pass a physical upon participating in the 2005 season and he played in 2005 though stat sites show him only playing 1 game (he was on the roster for 7 games) but he went on IR for an ankle injury on October 26, 2005. It is also clear he underwent surgery on his right ankle in February of 2005 to remove bone chips. The injury reports seem to indicate his right ankle was the major issue preventing him from playing in 2005.
Green spent the remainder of 2005 on IR but was released by the Giants on February 26, 2006. He got a few tryouts and ultimately ended up in training camp with the Houston Texans in 2006. He suffered a groin injury that kept recurring and he ended up being released on August 28, 2006. He never played again in the NFL. He currently lives in Miami-Dade County where he is apparently active in the community. Here is a link to his Foundation.
One more note from the lawsuit and that is Green claims that the NFL collectively engaged in a pattern of concealment about the bounty program but he does nothing to address why he didn’t seek remedy earlier. The lawsuit makes it clear the play was flagged and that Green was upset about the flagrant nature of the play. He clearly had knowledge of the nature of his injury. From all appearances Green never actively pursued his rights or filed for an injury claim as a result of his knee injury.
Now, on to the lawsuit and my thoughts on the validity of the legal claims. I have written before that I believed his claims were subject to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. As I wrote previously, I don’t think it matters, nor should it matter, whether the hit was legal, illegal or a so called “bounty hit.” Ignoring the issue of why Green waited so long, and the inconsistencies in his allegations, the central issue to me resides with the CBA.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement is subject to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act which provides that any claims by a union employee that are intertwined with the provisions of a CBA must first be presented through the grievance procedure. It is a prerequisite to proceeding in a court of law since the LMRA precludes a court from having subject matter jurisdiction over any claims that are subject to collective bargaining. A union employee with such a grievance must first exhaust any and all remedies under the agreement before the Court has authority to hear the claims.
Since Green did not avail himself of any remedies pursuant to the CBA, in order to have any chance for his lawsuit to survive, he must prove his claim is sufficiently independent of the agreement. As I have discussed before, this issue arose in the David Givens lawsuit, and this quote comes directly from the pleadings in that matter.
A state law claim is preempted if either: (1) the rights claimed by the plaintiff were created by the collective bargaining agreement rather than state law; or (2) resolving the state law claim would require interpretation of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. Id.; Paluda v. Thyssenkrupp
Budd Co., 303 Fed. Appx. 305, 308 (6th Cir. Dec. 16, 2008).
As an NFL player, Green’s rights arise under the CBA. Player and team discipline are covered and governed by the CBA and subject to the grievance procedure. All injuries are subject to the grievance procedure and there are provisions for workers’ compensation benefits. It appears to me all of his claims require interpretation of the provisions of the CBA. I see nothing here that isn’t intertwined with grievance procedures already in place and governed by the CBA. While there are certainly factual issues that raise questions about the validity of the lawsuit, it seems clear that legal precedent would dictate dismissal.
One final thing that I find interesting about the pleadings in this case are that there are currently no attorneys representing Robert Royal and Gregg Williams. The Redskins have availed themselves of counsel but their attorneys have made no appearance on their behalf nor have they included any defenses in their pleadings. Typically, this indicates a conflict of interest between the parties. Do the Redskins believe their interests are at odds with Robert Royal and/or Gregg Williams? That would raise some interesting questions. Having said that, if the lawsuit gets dismissed pursuant to the preemption doctrine like I believe it should it is really a non issue.
I do want to mention that the Redskins have filed a Motion To Dismiss to lawsuit. I didn’t discuss that last night because I wanted to address the lawsuit itself. See the separate blog addressing the dismissal.