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Miami Dolphins, Ltd v. Kendall Newson


May 3, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan

ECF Nos. 2, 9, 18



Plaintiff, Miami Dolphins, Ltd. (hereafter the "Club" or "Dolphins"), filed -- on August 30, 2010 - a "Complaint to Enforce Arbitration" in Federal Court against an employee football player, Kendall Newson (hereafter "Newson"). Newson had been participating in the relevant contract-interpretation arbitration since said arbitration was filed by the NFL Management Council (hereafter the "NFLMC") on October 3, 2008 (ECF No. 1). The Club has asked this Court to order Newson to discontinue a Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers' Compensation claim which has been proceeding since August 15, 2008 (hereafter the "PaWC Claim") See Complaint to Enforce Arbitration (ECF No. 1 at Count 1). It has also asked this Court, in its September 2, 2010 Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 2), and again in its overlapping September 9, 2010 Motion to Stay (ECF No. 9), to order presiding Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Judge Briston to dismiss that State benefit proceeding or to enter a stay. On September 21, this Court granted the Motion to Intervene filed by the NFL Players Association (hereafter the "NFLPA"), and a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint is also pending (ECF No. 18).

The Court, on careful consideration, finds no basis for issuance of an injunction or "stay" of the PaWC Claim in the authorities cited by Plaintiff. It further observes that the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, and related principles of comity bar Plaintiff's requested intrusion on the primary jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Court. And it concludes that as Plaintiff has no present claim in this forum to any relief sought through its Complaint, e.g. "enforcement" of arbitration orintrusion on the PaWC Claim, the Complaint should be dismissed.

In so holding, the Court notes that the questions of contractual interpretation underlying the parties' dispute -- including, e.g., the existence of any contractual waiver of entitlement to Pennsylvania (or other non-Florida) workers' compensation benefits and/or a Pennsylvania Bureau of Workers' Compensation forum*fn1 -- are expressly within the consolidated claims before Arbitrator Das. It further observes that the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Court has concluded, as have others, that private contracts cannot effectively waive the Commonwealth's statutorily-enacted public policy regarding workers' compensation benefits.


A. Employment and Injury History

Newson, a Georgia resident, initially entered into a contract of employment with the Club, a Florida football team, on or about February 28, 2003 for two football seasons. On February 2, 2005, Newson entered into a second contract with the Dolphins for an additional season, i.e., March 1, 2005 to February 28, 2006. On August 20, 2005, while playing in a professional football game for the Dolphins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Newson sustained an injury to his right knee.

B. Relevant Contract Provisions

Newson, as a football player employed by a member club of the National Football League (hereafter the "NFL") is represented by the NFLPA, the exclusive bargaining representative of employee players in the NFL. The terms and conditions of Newson's employment are therefore governed by the collective bargaining agreement (hereafter the "CBA") entered into between the NFLMC and the NFLPA. Under Article IX of the CBA, disputes regarding interpretation, application, or compliance with any of its provisions - or those of the individual player's contract - are to be resolved through the stipulated arbitration procedure. And Article LIV of the CBA requires that in any state where workers' compensation coverage is not mandatory or where a club is excluded from coverage (such as Florida), the club must either voluntarily obtain coverage under the compensation laws of that state or otherwise guarantee equivalent benefits to its players. The benefits to a player who qualifies under this section "will be equivalent to those benefits paid under the compensation law of the state in which his club is located" and determined under the non-injury grievance ("NIG") procedures of Article IX.

The NFLMC and NFLPA are also parties to a December, 1985 Implementation Agreement further providing - with regard to Dolphins' players' entitlement to workers' compensation rights and benefits equivalent to those set forth for other employees under Florida's Workers' Compensation Law -- that (1) claims will be processed through a service agent, and (2) disputes that cannot be resolved between said agent and the player will be heard by a member of a three-arbitrator local panel established by the parties to hear said claims, with appeal available under Article IX of the CBA. Under the Implementation Agreement, (1) players may make a claim for benefits within the statute of limitations set forth in Florida's Workers' Compensation Law; (2) rulings and decisions issued by the arbitrators appointed under the Agreement are applicable only to Florida workers' compensation claims arising under the specified CBA provisions; and (3) the NFLPA, for its players and in consideration for the provision of such benefits, grants the Dolphins the same immunities from suit that other employers in Florida enjoy with respect to suits on account of coverage under Florida Workers' Compensation Law.

As to Newson's individual contract documents, his NFL Player Contract provides that it is made under and governed by Florida law and that any disputes involving interpretation or application of its provisions will be arbitrated in accordance with the CBA. In addition, a 2005 Contract Addendum provides, under Section 6, Choice of Law, that Florida law governs any dispute, claim or cause of action concerning rights or liabilities arising from the relationship between Player and Club and that "the exclusive jurisdiction for resolving injury related claims shall be the Division of Workers' Compensation of Florida, and in the case of a Workers' Compensation claim, the Florida Workers' Compensation Act shall govern." The Addendum contains provisions guaranteeing (through insurance) payment of workers' compensation benefits equivalent to those to which the player would be entitled under Florida Workers' Compensation law, and a grant of immunity from suit equivalent to that afforded other Florida employers.

C. The Newson Workers' Compensation Claim and Arbitration Proceeding

On August 15, 2008, Newson filed the PaWC Claim. Through said claim, Newson sought workers' compensation benefits for the employment-related injuries he sustained in Pennsylvania. On September 16, 2010 (i.e., approximately two weeks after the Club first sought this Court's intervention in a two-year-old State Court proceeding), Judge Briston entered an Interlocutory Order noting that the claim had been "continuously delayed over the past two years" on request of counsel, with multiple unsuccessful mediations. See Judge's Interlocutory Order (noting that seven hearings were scheduled, and four held; at least three mediations were conducted; and numerous continuances were granted).

Furthermore, Judge Briston expressly held that, under Pennsylvania law, the Commonwealth's statutory workers' compensation provisions apply to all work-related injuries incurred in Pennsylvania and that this benefit is protected against/immune from private contract waiver by an employee or his union. See Judge's Interlocutory Order at ¶ 13, 14 (noting that "the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act provides that the Act is applicable to all injuries occurring within Pennsylvania" and that "in Pennsylvania one cannot contract away their rights to workers' compensation, nor can the union or the employer do so"); Section 101, 77 P.S. § 1; McIlvaine Trucking Inc. v. WC Appeal Board, 810 A.2d 1280 (Pa. 2002) (employment contract specifying West Virginia forum/choice of law for workers' compensation claims held unenforceable and employee could file for Pennsylvania workers' compensation benefits under Pennsylvania law). Judge Briston accordingly concluded that the Implementation Agreement did not preclude Newson's Pennsylvania workers' compensation claim and that she had jurisdiction over the work injuries he sustained. See Judge's Interlocutory Order at ¶ 15.*fn2

On October 3, 2008, the NFLMC filed a non-injury grievance under the CBA (hereafter the "NFL's Contract Arbitration") asserting that Newson was in breach of his contractual obligations, which required that "the exclusive jurisdiction for resolving injury related claims shall be the Division of Workers' Compensation of Florida, and in the case of a Workers' Compensation claim, the Florida Workers' Compensation Act shall govern." The grievance requested that Arbitrator Das, to whom the matter was assigned, direct Newson to discontinue the PaWC Claim. On October 17, 2008, the NFLPA filed an answer on behalf of itself and Newson, and moved to transfer the grievance from Arbitrator Das to the Florida Arbitration Panel, under the parties' Implementation Agreement. Between January and June 2009, Arbitrator Das denied the NFLPA's motion, retained jurisdiction under the arbitration provisions of the CBA, and consolidated this contractual-workers'-compensation-provision grievance with the numerous others filed by the NFLMC against retired Dolphins' players who have filed claims seeking workers' compensation benefits in California.*fn3 He scheduled a hearing on the arbitration for November 16, 2010, which hearing was then repeatedly delayed,*fn4 but conducted on April 12, 2011.*fn5

D. Related Football Players' Workers' Compensation Proceedings and Arbitrations The football management and football players' associations have arbitrated their disputes regarding their contractual understandings and undertakings as to players' entitlements to workers' compensation benefits for many years. See, e.g., Affidavit of Adam Kaiser, Counsel to NFLPA (providing as Exhibits arbitration disputes regarding CBA and contract workers' compensation provisions). Despite undertakings to resolve their differences and execute a comprehensive, unambiguous contractual understanding,*fn6 the football management and football players' associations' disagreements have continued, as has the issuance of arbitrators' decisions interpreting -- as is their role - related contract provisions.*fn7 As Plaintiff notes, the most recent decision was issued by Arbitrator Townley on April 21, 2011, in a related arbitration between The Chicago Bears/NFLMC and Michael Haynes, Joe Odom, Cameron Worrell/NFLPA. Arbitrator Townley concluded that Arbitrator Sharpe's August, 2010 decision in Tennessee Titans v. Bruce Matthews, supra n. 7, is the "law of the shop", but also that the players violated the forum restrictions of their contracts by filing workers' compensation claims in California. See Opinion and Award (hereafter the "Bears-Haynes Decision") at 18.*fn8

The Court observes that the arbitrators, including Arbitrator Das (before whom consideration of the parties' contracts is pending) have expressly addressed their limited role as "contractor readers" in providing an interpretation of contractual language regarding workers' compensation benefits. Most recently, Arbitrator Townley observed: "It is clear . . . that any interpretation of state workers' compensation law is to be left to state or other authorities and not to the arbitrator, who is confined to the interpretation of the provisions of the CBA and the Players' Contracts." Bears-Haynes Decision at 23. See also NFLPA/Harvey v. NFLMC/Buffalo Bills Arbitration (February 14, 2007) (Arbitrator Das) (hereafter the "Bills-Harvey Decision") (observing that where the application of state law turns on contract provisions, "there is an issue as to whether a state tribunal is free to interpret a provision in the CBA. on its own without regard to [arbitrators or law of the shop]"); id. (concluding that NFLPA was entitled to a declaration from the arbitrator on the meaning of contract provisions and that interpretation of "state workers' compensation laws is a matter to be decided in the appropriate state or federal forum, not arbitration under the CBA"); id. (commenting on his Cowboys/Texans decision, infra, noting that arbitrator does "not have the authority to determine what the consequences of the decision would be in a state workers' compensation proceeding"); NFLPA v. Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans (2005) (Arbitrator Das) (hereafter the "Cowboys/Texans Decision") (explaining that arbitrator is limited to interpreting and applying "the terms of the CBA" and cannot "dictate how the appropriate state authority should treat" actions taken by the parties pursuant to state workers' compensation law); id. (issuing cease and desist order against Clubs, where Clubs were applying state law workers' compensation calculation/offset to reduce player's contract benefits); Bears-Haynes Decision at 9, 19 (citing Arbitrator Das). See also generally Storm-Brache Decision at 38 & n. 62 (detailing "decades-long dialog among labor arbitrators regarding their role in resolving statutory claims").*fn9


A. Absence of Basis for Injunction or Stay

Plaintiff's Complaint to Enforce Arbitration asserts, under Count I, that it is entitled to relief under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (hereafter the "LMRA") because Newson's PaWC Claim is a breach of his contract and subject to arbitration, and, under Count II, that it is entitled to relief under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. Section 4.*fn10

(hereafter the "FAA"), because it has been aggrieved by Newson's failure to arbitrate. As discussed in the briefings, the parties' positions as to application of the LMRA or FAA have varied in the course of other litigation. See generally Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss at 5 & n. 2. The Court need not reach the parties' disputes regarding alternative applicability under the LMRA or the FAA to arbitrations governed by CBAs, because neither statutory authority relied upon by Plaintiff would warrant any relief requested.*fn11

Plaintiff has asked this Court to order Judge Briston to dismiss or enter a stay in the PaWC Claim proceedings because Newson's pursuit of this claim is in breach of contract provisions mandating arbitration of workers' compensation disputes and providing exclusive jurisdiction.*fn12

A principal difficulty with this argument is that it runs afoul of the role of this Court in relation to the role of Arbitrator Das in the pending consolidated arbitration. Arbitrator Das has observed that whether the contracts "mandate that Players may only file workers' compensation claims with the Florida arbitration panel and not elsewhere" is within the scope of Article IX of the CBA and therefore properly before him. The threshold question of whether Newson breached any contractual obligation by filing a Pennsylvania workers' compensation claim and proceeding before the Pennsylvania Worker's Compensation Court is indeed a question of contract interpretation covered by the broad arbitration provision of the CBA and currently pending before the arbitrator.*fn13 There is no indication whatsoever in the pleadings that Defendant Newson is not participating the relevant arbitration.*fn14

Plaintiff cannot in the guise of a request to "enforce" arbitration ask this Court to preempt the arbitrator's authority as to the meaning/scope of the contract language by accepting Plaintiff's interpretation of the very language currently under arbitration.*fn15 Thus, even assuming that Plaintiff's claim under the LMRA is not time barred,*fn16 or that the FAA applies,*fn17 Plaintiff's assertions of entitlement to "enforcement" of arbitration, or an injunction or "stay" from this Court against Newson or the Pennsylvania Court on the basis of contract violation are unfounded. And indeed, should Arbitrator Das conclude that the players' rights regarding workers' compensation benefits/claims in states other than Florida were not within the scope of their contractual agreements, see, e.g., Storm-Brache Decision, there will be no question of any tension between those agreements and Pennsylvania workers' compensation law.*fn18 See Cincinnati Bengals, 2010 WL 1857270 (concluding that players' workers' compensation benefit disputes were grounded in questions of breach of contract and threshold question of intent/scope of private contract provisions was for arbitration).

Plaintiff has also suggested that this Court should "stop [Defendant] from proceeding with his Pennsylvania claim "until the arbitration proceeding . . . can determine whether he violated the contract by seeking benefits under Pennsylvania law."*fn19 A principal difficulty with this argument is that it runs afoul of the role of this Court in relation to the role of the Pennsylvania Courts.*fn20 Cf. Pacific Employers Ins. Co. v. Indust. Accident Commission of Cal., 306 U.S. 493, 503 (1939) (holding that State had "constitutional authority . . . to legislate for the bodily safety and economic protection of employees injured within it" and that "[f]ew matters could be deemed more appropriately the concern of the State in which the injury occurs or more completely within its power").*fn21

As Arbitrator Clarke has nicely summarized, the Supreme Court has made clear that a union may, through "clear and unmistakable" waiver -- and only "clear and unmistakable waiver" -- forego its employees' rights to bring a Federal statutory claim in a judicial forum. See Storm-Brache Decision at 42 (discussing Wright v. Universal Maritime Serv. Corp., 525 U.S. 70 (1998); see also 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, 2009 WL 838159 (US Apr. 1, 2009). And although the right to file a workers' compensation claim is State, rather than Federal, in nature, it seems "unlikely that Congress . . . intended minimum state statutory allowance programs to be treated differently than Federal statutory rights." Id. at 42 n. 65 (also citing Eastern Assoc. Coal Corp. v. Massey, 373 F.3d 530 (4th Cir. 2004) (applying Wright to allegation that union had waived state statutory claims). As any preemption of State court jurisdiction in favor of an agreement to arbitrate statutory claims requires a "clear and unmistakable waiver" of the employee's right, that right is not preempted while this contract-interpretation arbitration proceeds. See Storm-Brache Decision at 42-43 (observing that none of the agreements in question "clearly and unmistakably waives any right covered employees might have to file workers' compensation claims in states other than Florida" and "[a]bsent such clarity, any attempted waiver must fail"); Cincinnati Bengals, 2010 WL 1857270 at 10-11 (concluding that players could seek workers compensation benefits in State Court while arbitration as to meaning of contract provisions was pending).

B. Anti-Injunction Act Prohibits Intrusions Requested in Plaintiff's Motions Plaintiff's Motions for Preliminary Injunction and/or "Stay" raise serious prudential concerns and, indeed, are precluded by the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283 (hereafter the "AIA"). The AIA prohibits any federal court from issuing an injunction against proceedings in any state court, except within three (3) specifically defined exceptions: where "expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments." Id.

The Club contends that its motions fall within the "necessary in aid of jurisdiction" exception. See, e.g., Plantiff's Response to Motion to Dismiss at 8 (explaining that exception "provides authority for a federal district court to stay a parallel state proceeding pending arbitration"). However, reliance on this exception becomes entirely circular, and this basis for enjoining the State Court does not apply, where the Federal Court's jurisdiction is premised solely on Plaintiff's request for an injunction/stay (i.e., intrusion on the State proceeding) and the Federal Court has no other "proceeding" before it. Plaintiff cites no authority to the contrary. Cf. In re Gen. Motors Corp. Pick-Up Truck Fuel Tank Prods. Liability Litig., 134 F.3d 133, 144-45 (3d Cir. 1998) (explaining that exception is "narrow" and "[a]ny doubts as to the propriety of a federal injunction against state court proceedings should be resolved in favor of permitting the state court to proceed in an orderly fashion to finally determine the controversy"). See also Transcript of Oral Argument at 35-36, 42-43.*fn22

C. Availability of Relief at Law

Even if it were appropriate to consider Plaintiff's injunction request on the merits, it is apparent that the issuance of an injunction is manifestly unwarranted in these circumstances.*fn23

The underlying workers' compensation dispute regards the payment of money damages. Plaintiff has a full and sufficient remedy at law, and has failed to make any showing of irreparable harm. See Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of its Motion to Dismiss at 31-32 ("An injury measured in solely monetary terms cannot constitute irreparable harm.") (quoting Liberty Lincoln-Mercury, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 562 F.3d 553, 557 (3d Cir. 2009)); In re Arthur Treacher's Franchisee Litig., 689 F.2d 1137, 1145 (3d Cir. 1982) ("We have never upheld an injunction where the claimed injury constituted a loss of money, a loss capable of recoupment in a proper action at law."). And Plaintiff's articulation of its position, at oral argument, that it would be assertedly less difficult for Defendant to obtain any additional compensation to which he might be entitled than for the Club to recover overpayment speaks to the balance of hardship; it does not, however, speak to an irreparable injury -- which the Court finds does not exist in this situation. *fn24

The Court also notes that any assertion by Plaintiff of potential of harm by the State Court proceeding in the way of improper influence on the pending arbitration is in tension with whole premise of the FAA -- that the Federal Court reposes confidence in the arbitrator to reach an appropriate decision based on the factors he looks to.*fn25 Plaintiff may present its arguments regarding contractual obligations*fn26 and the effectiveness of any such private contractual obligations as against State public policy law to the arbitrator and to the State Court (as it has done, and on which the State Workers' Compensation Court issued an Interlocutory Order last September, and the arbitrator heard argument last month).

Finally, the Court observes that there is no basis to suppose that any public interest would be served by granting an injunction against a State Court proceeding designed to enforce its public policies regarding working conditions and work-related injury protections. See supra at 12 (citing Pacific Employers Ins. Co., 306 U.S. at 503 (observing that "[f]ew matters could be deemed more appropriately the concern of the State in which the injury occurs or more completely within its power")).

D. Motion to Dismiss

As stated above, Newson has participated in the relevant contract-interpretation arbitration (regarding the threshold question of whether Newson breached any contractual obligation by filing the PaWC claim) since said arbitration was filed by the NFLMC on October 3, 2008, and that arbitration is ongoing. Plaintiff's attempts to shoehorn this action into the LMRA or FAA notwithstanding, there is no basis for this Court to compel arbitration where an arbitration is proceeding, nor is there any basis for this Court to enforce arbitration where the Arbitrator has yet to issue his decision. There is simply no basis for this Court's intervention in either that arbitration (by way, e.g., of interpreting the contract properly before Arbitrator Das) or the State claim proceeding before Judge Briston these past two years regarding a core matter within her competence. Plaintiff's Motions for Injunction or Stay (ECF Nos. 2 and 9) will, therefore, be denied, and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (ECF No. 18) will, therefore, be granted. An Order will follow.


LISA PUPO LENIHAN Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

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