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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' ...

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