NEW YORK — The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday threw out a judge's order lifting the NFL lockout, possibly giving the league leverage in talks aimed at reaching a new labor deal.
The ruling was issued shortly after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith opened a second straight day of negotiations at a law firm in Manhattan.
The court vacated an April 25 decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson that the lockout should be lifted because players were suffering irreparable harm. The appeals court had already put that order on hold and said in its ruling that Nelson ignored federal law in reaching her decision.
The appeals court ruling allows the players' antitrust lawsuit to move forward, but the court did take issue with the NFL Players Association's decision to decertify on March 11, a move that cleared the way for players to file their still-pending antitrust lawsuit against the league.
"The league and the players' union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement for almost eighteen years prior to March 2011," the appeals court said in its 2-1 decision. "They were engaged in collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment for approximately two years ... Then, on a single day, just hours before the CBA's expiration, the union discontinued collective bargaining and disclaimed its status ...."
"Whatever the effect of the union's disclaimer on the league's immunity from antitrust liability, the labor dispute did not suddenly disappear just because the players elected to pursue the dispute through antitrust litigation rather than collective bargaining."
Judges Steven Colloton and Duane Benton backed the league Friday, just as the two Republican appointees did in two earlier decisions. Judge Kermit Bye, appointed by a Democrat, dissented both times, favoring the players, and he did so again Friday.
Bye had urged settlement of the dispute to avoid a ruling "both sides aren't going to like."
The two sides have been meeting for weeks to try to reach a new labor pact. On Friday, NFLPA executive board President Kevin Mawae and owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys joined Goodell and Smith for more negotiations.
On Thursday, talks stretched on for more than 12 hours, deep into the evening. Some training camps are set to open in two weeks and the first exhibition game, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, is Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, between Chicago and St. Louis.