The NFL has appealed Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott’s preliminary injunction to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in hopes of reinstating his six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
The NFL also asked Judge Amos Mazzant for an emergency “stay” of his injunction, pending the outcome of the appeal.
Per Daniel Wallach of the Sports Law Blog, the average duration of an appeal in the Fifth Circuit is 8.8 months, from the date of the filing of a notice of appeal to its ultimate disposition.
That is the norm but NFL vice president of communications Joe Lockhart said the league is hoping for something faster.
“I was talking with our lawyers this morning about what’s the best example of how quickly something like this can move when you’ve got at least one side looking for expedited action,” Lockhart said. “The example they gave me was the Maurice Clarett decision, where he was hoping to get into the Draft and that whole process took a matter of weeks to go from the first filing to a ruling from the Court of Appeals.”
The Clarett case was in 2004 and the timetable was more acute because of the date of the draft.
The circumstances are different here, which makes an emergency stay the best play of action for the NFL.
A “stay” would prevent the injunction from going into effect throughout the outcome of the appeal, thus forcing Elliott to begin serving his six-game suspension immediately.
It will make for another frenzied week of legal maneuverings and court proceedings for Elliott but should not have an impact on status for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos.
Mazzant gave Elliott and his lawyers from the NFL Players Association until Wednesday to respond to the NFL's request for a stay. The NFL has until Friday to respond to arguments from Elliott.
It likely won’t be until next week before before Mazzant rules on the motion.
Elliott won Round 1 last week when Mazzant granted the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, citing that Elliott did not receive a fair appeals hearing before league-appointed arbitrator Harold Henderson.
Mazzant ruled that Elliott would suffer irreparable harm if the suspension took effect while the legal case plays out and that Elliott also met the other criteria necessary for an injunction.
He and the Fifth Circuit would have to reverse the decision based on the same reasoning, citing irreparable harm to the NFL if he didn’t serve the suspension immediately.
It’s unlikely that Mazzant will reverse his own decision when he rules on the motion.
The league will also be hardpressed to convince the Fifth Circuit court in New Orleans to approve the emergency stay based on irreparable harm, as Elliott could easily serve the suspension next season if he loses in court.
He would face more irreparable harm by missing games this year, if he ultimately wins the case, which is why Mazzant ruled initially in his favor.
Lockhart said Mazzant overstepped his authority and believes the NFL has a better chance withe Fifth Circuit Court.
“The arguments that we’re making, we believe strongly that the process was fair and [that] we meticulously adhered to the process in the collectively bargained agreement,” Lockhart said. “As far as the argument to the Court of Appeals, we think that the scope and review in a labor arbitration case is very limited and we believe in this case, the judge went well beyond what he is permitted as far as scope. We have been here before. If you look at the Adrian Peterson case and the Tom Brady case, I think the Court of Appeals found that the judge went beyond what they should be looking at, so I think we have a very strong argument both on process and merits.”
Elliott made his 2017 debut on Sunday night, rushing for 104 yards in the Cowboys’ 19-3 victory over the New York Giants.
But he understands the fight with the NFL was not over and there was no guarantee he would be on the field for the entire season.
“It is what it is,” Elliott said after the game in what were his first public comments since June. “I’ve kind of just stopped worrying about it because it’s really out of my hands at this point. I’m just happy I’m able to be with these guys for as long as it’s permitted and just not having to miss time and not being away from them.”
Elliott was suspended on Aug. 11 after the NFL concluded a 13-month investigation into domestic violence accusations of former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.
Columbus, Ohio, prosecutors declined to pursue charges because of conflicting and inconsistent information.
Elliott, 22, said he’s looking forward to finally getting “a fair trial.”
“I finally get a chance to prove my innocence,” Elliott said.
Playing football again and notching the eighth 100-yard game of his career Sunday night against the Giants was easy.
The hard part?
“Just kind of your name being dragged through the mud,” Elliott said. “I mean, it’s been, like I said, 14 months. Just kind of being associated with that. That’s tough.”