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Judge Holderman Denies NFL’s Motion to Stay

2012 April 19

It’s a small win, but it is a victory nonetheless. Shortly after Duerson’s family filed their wrongful death complaint in Cook County State Court, the NFL removed the case to the Northern District of Illinois (i.e. federal court). Thereafter, the Judicial Panel on Multi-district litigation (JPML) ordered a conditional transfer, preliminarily determining that Duerson’s case should be consolidated with the other 30 plus cases in Philadelphia (E.D. Pa.).

Contemporaneously, the NFL filed a motion to stay requesting that the Northern District of Illinois refrain from taking action until the JPML’s conditional order became final. Meanwhile, Duerson’s lawyer — wanting the case to go back to Cook County — was busily preparing a motion opposing the stay and a motion to remand.

Judge Holderman, of the N.D. Illinois, requested a status hearing for April 19th and listened to both parties’ respective positions. Following the hearing, he took the matter under consideration and said he would issue an order “as swiftly as possible.”

Judge Holderman did just that and issued his order prior to the close of business on April 19th.  In a three page order, Judge Holderman denied the NFL’s motion to stay and ruled that the parties must fully brief the issue of whether the case should be remanded back to Cook County.

Judge Holderman applied the three-step analytical framework from Meyers v. Bayer AG, 143 F. Supp. 2d 1044 (E.D. Wis. 2001). Meyers essentially requires the court to 1) look at the merits of the motion to remand, and if removal is improper, send the case back to state court; 2) if the “jurisdictional issue appears factually or legally difficult,” then the court should see if other courts are facing, or will face, an identical issue; and 3) if the jurisdictional issue is both difficult and similar to those facing other courts, then the court should balance the following factors: a) the interests of judicial economy; b) hardship and inequity to the moving party; and c) potential prejudice to the non-moving party.

Judge Holderman determined that Duerson’s motion to remand raises a “jurisdictional issue that is difficult.” Then Judge Holderman balanced the factors finding that the NFL (as the moving party) showed a minimal amount of hardship since they would only be required to brief the remand issue. Conversely, Judge Holderman stated, “if the motion to stay is granted and the MDL panel transfers the case [to Philadelphia], Duerson will have to wait at least seven months before the motion to remand can be briefed and decided….”

On balance, Judge Holderman held that the “stay is inappropriate at this time.”

The take away from Judge Holderman’s ruling is this: the parties will now fully brief whether the case should stay in federal court or if it should go back to state court. By making this ruling, Judge Holderman will be required to rule on the jurisdictional merits of whether this is fundamentally a labor dispute governed by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act and thus federal jurisdiction is present, or whether Duerson’s claims are garden-variety state law claims not preempted by Section 301.

If Judge Holderman determines the former, then the case will likely be sent to Philadelphia. However, if Judge Holderman decides the latter, then Duerson’s case will go back to state court potentially becoming the first major test case in the NFL concussion litigation. In other words, if the case goes back to state court, discovery would start and a trial date would be set within thirty months, according to Duerson’s motion opposing stay (e.g. In Cook County, 30 months is the average time span from date of filing to trial).

So what’s next? The NFL must file a response to Duerson’s motion to remand by April 27th. Duerson must reply by May 4th, and Judge Holderman will make his, potentially (persuasive) precedent-setting, ruling shortly thereafter.  However, there has already been one federal judge that decided the motion to remand in the NFL’s favor, and thus, Duerson’s lawyer still has an uphill battle to climb.

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