Two National Football League retiree lawsuits filed by former players dissatisfied with the settlement terms of an earlier suit over the NFL’s use of their likenesses in marketing must be dropped, a U.S. judge said.
Preliminarily approved on April 8, the opposed accord calls for formation of a special licensing agency to market ex-player publicity rights and creation of a $42 million fund overseen by retirees for the benefit of their peers.
U.S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson in St. Paul, Minnesota, who is scheduled to hear arguments over the fairness and final approval of that agreement on Oct. 17, today said filing of the latter suits violated terms of his April 8 order, which bars bringing new cases while the settlement is pending. He blamed the objecting players’ attorneys.
“Their behavior, which is calculated only to doom the settlement in this matter, shocks the court’s conscience,” Magnuson said.
Opponents of the proposed agreement include one-time Los Angeles Rams lineman Fred Dryer, whose name is on the original case, former New York Jets Mark Gastineau and Abdul Salaam, who were part of the 1980s defensive unit known as the Sack Exchange, and Kansas City Chiefs’ Curley Culp, in whose name a suit was filed in Camden, New Jersey, federal court Aug. 20.
Another lawsuit was filed by the estate of late Oakland Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum at the U.S. court in Pittsburgh 10 days later.
“As all parties realize, the settlement is controversial and its approval and the accompanying final certification of a plaintiff class are not a foregone conclusion,” Magnuson said. “There can be no doubt that the filing of Culp and Tatum violated the injunction against related litigation.”
In addition to ordering lawyers in those cases to make public the dismissal of those cases, he ordered that those who filed papers seeking exclusion from the settlement class be given 10 business days to reconsider and withdraw those requests.
“We will comply with his order and will refile, and relitigate these claims that our clients believe in, when permitted,” Tatum plaintiffs’ lawyer Jason Luckasevic said by phone.
A lawyer for the Culp plaintiffs, Jon King, said while he too would abide by Magnuson’s ruling, that decision would be challenged on appeal. At issue, he said, is when a player who’s opted out of the class can rightly consider himself excluded.
Underlying the legal dispute, is dissatisfaction over the terms of the accord, which doesn’t directly compensate the retired players, King said, filtering those payments through various organizations.
“Not a single penny would go to any player directly,” he said. King said his Culp case stands for at least 500 retirees. The Tatum case purports to represent about 550 more, according to Magnuson’s ruling.
Plaintiffs’ lawyer Michael Hausfeld didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment e-mailed after regular business hours.
The initial case is Dryer v. National Football League, 09-cv-02182, U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota (St. Paul). The latter cases are Culp v. NFL Productions LLC d/b/a NFL Films, 13-cv-04999, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Camden), and Tatum v. National Football League, 13-cv-01272, U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh).
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