On October 17, Judge Paul Crotty of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted a temporary restraining order in favor of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. In his ruling, Crotty asked the NFL to address why a full preliminary injunction to hold off the suspension further should not be issued. Crotty noted that Elliott faced irreparable harm if forced to miss games and questioned the fairness of the NFL’s arbitration process. Prior to the start of the 2017-18 season, the NFL handed Elliott a 6-game suspension stemming from 2016 allegations of domestic violence. An NFL arbiter upheld the suspension. Then, on September 8 – days prior to the start of the season – the Eastern District of Texas enjoined the NFL from imposing the suspension. Elliott has since played in all five of the Cowboys’ games this season (the team’s bye was Week 6 of the season). However, on Friday October 13, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated the September 8 decision and reinstated Elliott’s suspension.
The NFLPA and Elliott followed up by petitioning the Southern District of New York to grant a temporary restraining order. Although it is unusual to involve two different federal circuits, Elliott was able to seek the temporary restraining order in the S.D.N.Y. because the NFL itself filed a lawsuit against Elliott in New York to combat Elliott’s Texas suit.
To obtain the temporary restraining order, the NFLPA and Elliott needed to distinguish the process used to sanction Elliott from the process used to sanction New England quarterback Tom Brady in 2015. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld Brady’s suspension due to the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the Second Circuit is binding on the Southern District of New York. Additionally, the NFLPA and Elliott needed to convince the court that missing games would constitute irreparable harm, meaning that monetary damages in the future would not remedy an erroneous action in the present. The temporary restraining order is set to expire upon the earlier of October 30 or a separate ruling from Judge Katherine Polk Failla, to whom the case was assigned originally but is on vacation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit also may review this case. If the court does not review Elliott’s case until after the 2017 season, the earliest Elliott would serve a suspension would be the 2018-19 season.
Ian Ferrell is a Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).