NFL files motions against Jonathan Vilma, NFLPA in federal court

The NFL followed through with two expected legal filings on Friday, asking that federal judge Helen Berrigan dismiss the NFL Players Association's and Jonathan Vilma's claims against league suspensions and stating its opposition to Vilma's request for a temporary restraining order against his yearlong penalty.

In the filings, totaling more than 700 pages including exhibits, the NFL argued that the suspended current and former New Orleans Saints players, by refusing to fully participate in the league's appeals process, have not exhausted their opportunities for resolution.

"First, the players and the NFLPA failed to participate in any meaningful way in the appeals of the suspensions to the Commissioner. Their counsel could not have been more clear on this point. ... That alone constitutes a failure to exhaust barring the plaintiffs' claims."

The NFL further said that even if federal court had jurisdiction over the matter, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's suspensions should not be set aside. The league argued that the decision properly "drew its essence" from its collective bargaining agreement, finalized in August 2011.

"The CBA, the incorporated Constitution and Bylaws, and the contract of each suspended player each expressly provides that the Commissioner has the authority to impose suspensions for conduct detrimental. ... And there can be no dispute that the conduct for which the players were suspended -- helping to establish a pool that rewarded players for hits resulting in 'knockouts' or 'cart-offs,' pledging significant sums to that pool, and, in the case of (Anthony Hargrove of the Green Bay Packers), for lying to NFL Security -- was reasonably within the scope of 'conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of football."

The NFL also attacked the NFLPA and Vilma's assertion that they were not allowed to cross-examine key witnesses involved in the league's investigation.
"Their premise is wrong: Mr. Vilma and the NFLPA chose not to cross-examine the two principal NFL investigators who were present at (the league's June 18 appeals hearing for the suspensions) at their request."

Countering the NFLPA and Vilma's argument that Goodell displayed bias throughout the league's appeals proceedings, the NFL said in the suit that Goodell had an obligation to make public statements about the players' suspensions to preserve "'public confidence' in the game of professional football."

The league made a similar argument in its motion to dismiss, filed against Vilma's request for an immediate restraining order of Goodell's suspension. It said that Vilma had "failed to exhaust his remedies under the CBA" and that there was no chance he would receiving a favorable ruling.

The three parties will convene on Monday in New Orleans in Magistrate Judge Daniel Knowles' chambers for a settlement conference, though they will likely reach no compromise at that time.

Vilma's hearing for his restraining order will be held in front of Berrigan on Thursday. Vilma sought a quick decision so that he would have a chance to participate in Saints training camp, which opens on Tuesday, and see team doctors for his injured left knee at team facilities.

The NFL and the NFLPA also filed a joint motion to expedite the court proceedings on Thursday. They asked that Berrigan hear the NFLPA's motion to vacate the suspensions on Aug. 10, 13 or 14.

Both the players -- Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita of the Cleveland Browns -- and the NFLPA expressed a desire in the motion to receive a decision on the proceedings before the first game of the 2012 regular season for those three players on Sept. 9.

The motion said that on Aug. 1 the NFLPA will file an opposition to the NFL's motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgement. On Aug. 7, the NFL will file a reply in further support of its motion.

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