Cleveland Browns Fan Sues Goodell, Unsuccessfully

May 6, 2022

By Jeff Birren, Senior Writer

In 2021 Patricia Breckenridge sued NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but not the NFL, seeking an injunction to place the Cleveland Browns in the Super Bowl.  She also sought damages for Goodell’s “breach” of “his NFL contract for helmet-to-helmet” collusions and because “her relative” was not allowed “to play in Super Bowl LV” (Patricia A. Breckenridge, Pro Se Litigant v. Roger Goodell, (Breckenridge v. Goodell”), N.D. Ill, Case No. 21-cv-00674, (2-4-21)).  The District Court dismissed the case, and Breckenridge appealed.  The Seventh Circuit affirmed in April 2022(Breckenridge v. Goodell, (“Breckenridge”), Case No. 21-1618, (4-8-22)). 

Facts, As Can Be Ascertained

The 2020 Cleveland Browns were 11-5 in the regular season.  They defeated the Steelers in the Wild Card game but lost at Kansas City in the Divisional Playoff game.  The Chiefs lost to Cincinnati the next week in the Conference Championship Breckenridge was not happy.  She filed a one-page, handwritten complaint on February 4, 2021, just three days before the Super Bowl. Breckenridge sought a mere $10,000,000 in damages if the Browns were not placed in the Super Bowl, punitive damages for “malicious, intentional, willful, and reckless disregard rights of plaintiff and relatives,” and damages for the “harm” suffered by her because of her “relative not being allowed to play in Super Bowl LV.” 

Breckenridge attached eight pages of articles to her complaint.  The first one discussed helmet-to-helmet collisions, and page two quoted “” that stated that each set of Super Bowl rings are valued at $5,000,000.  The following pages list “Recent Supporters.” The final page is a color photograph of a helmet-to-helmet collusion.  Nowhere did Breckenridge identify her “relative” that was unable to play in the Super Bowl allegedly due to Goodell.  Breckenridge also filed a motion for “attorney representation” and to proceed in forma pauperis.

The case was assigned to Judge Mathew F. Kennedy.  Judge Kennedy granted the motion for Breckenridge to proceed in forma pauperis.  Theorder also stated that he had “reviewed the complaint” to determine if it was “frivolous or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”  The answer to that was yes.  “The claim has no basis and is frivolous.”  It noted that she “makes a reference to a relative’s football-related injuries, but plaintiff herself alleges no injuries, and she lacks standing to sue for harm to someone else.”  The Court “directed” the Clerk of the Court to enter judgment dismissing the case with prejudice and the motion for attorney representation was terminated as moot, (Breckenridge v. Goodell, Order, (3-10-21)).  The Clerk did that the very same day.  Breckenridge filed a notice of appeal in April, and it was on to the Seventh Circuit.

In the Seventh Circuit

Breckenridge filed her opening brief on May 18, 2021.  It is eighteen pages with less than ten pages of argument.  The NFL’s rule concerning blindside blocks is Appendix A.  Breckenridge again included her argument concerning the Browns.  She stated that the case was “filed for the protection of Cleveland Browns’ Constitutional rights under amendment 15 right to property,” 42. U.S.C. Section 182 and 42 U.S.C. Section 183 (Motion To Appeal Case, at 7, punctuation in the original, (5-18-21)). 

Breckenridge also sought “to decrease the debilitating and deadly outcomes of helmet to helmet collisions in NFL and other professional organizations” (punctuation in the original).  The “case is filed for compensation denied to Cleveland Browns due to CTE play.”  Furthermore, the “case is filed in honor of my late father.”  This time she identified her relative that was in the NFL as her father’s “great-grandnephew.”  Breckenridge requested “$10m for damages and pain and suffering” to her parents’ “lineage for the loss of the Super Bowl LV Championship” because of the NFL’s “disregard” of its rules.  The claimed relative was Jedrick Willis Jr., an offensive tackle and the tenth pick in the 2020 NFL player draft (, “Goodell Prevails Over Anguished Browns Fan in Super Bowl Claims Suit”, Michael McCann, (4-16-22)). 

Five times Breckenridge filed a motion in the Circuit to extend her time to file an amended opening brief.  Five times that was granted by the Circuit.  Despite those five extensions, no revised brief was filed.  Finally, her sixth such motion was opposed by Goodell’s counsel at Proskauer, Rose, and the Circuit denied this request.  Proskauer filed its brief in October 2021.  Once again Breckenridge sought multiple extensions to file her reply brief, and those were again granted.  That brief was filed on January 26, 2022.  The docket sheet mentions possible future oral argument, but that was not to be.

The Seventh Circuit’s Order

The Circuit’s panel included Chief Judge Diane S. Sykes, and Circuit Judges Frank H. Easterbrook and Michael B. Brennan.  The Order began with a footnote stating that the panel “agreed to decide the case without oral argument because the briefs and record adequately present the facts and legal arguments, and oral argument would not significantly aid the court” (Breckenridge at 2,citing FED. R. APP. P. 34(a)(2)(C)).

The Court summarized the case in the first paragraph, stating Breckenridge “has a distant relative who played for the Cleveland Browns” in 2020-2021.  She alleged that “the Browns were robbed of their ‘rightful place’ in the Super Bowl,” and that “the NFL should do more to protect players, like her relative, from helmet-to-helmet collisions that lead to concussions.”

In its second paragraph the Circuit noted that Breckenridge “sought to file her complaint without prepaying the filing fees” and therefore the district court judge “screened the complaint” and dismissed it “as frivolous.”  The judge “alluded to” her “reference to her relative’s football-related injuries” and stated that “Breckenridge lacked standing to sue for harm to someone else.”

In its third and final paragraph, the Circuit stated that Breckenridge “generally challenges the judge’s ruling” but failed to “address his reasoning or make a cogent legal argument that could provide a basis for disturbing the judgment” (citations omitted.)  The Circuit did not stop there.  “Regardless, her claim about the Browns’ defeat is legally frivolous,” citing Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992).  Finally, Breckenridge “lacks standing to bring a claim on behalf of football players who have suffered injuries, see TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez,” 141 S. Ct. 2190 (2021).  The Circuit’s Docket Sheet added that the opinion was nonprecedential and the judgment was with costs. 


The case will now return to the District Court, and Goodell will get an order awarding him “costs” on appeal.  There is no way to know at this distance whether Proskauer will try to enforce that order.  Breckenridge may have been passionate about her claims that the Browns’ defeat was due to officiating, but even heightened passion does not convert such beliefs into cognizable legal claims.  Cheering or booing loudly on the court or stadium does not make such passions stand up in court.  This may turn out to be an expensive lesson for Breckenridge, as it has for other litigant-fans in the past. 

Articles in Current Issue