Court Denies NFLPA’s Motion, Which Fails to Answer Key Questions

Aug 29, 2008

A federal judge from the Northern District of California has denied the NFL Players Association’s motion for summary judgment in a case in which the NFLPA has been sued by former NFL players, who claimed the NFLPA breached a contract as well as its fiduciary duty when it came to fairly distributing licensing revenues associated with the plaintiffs’ images, likenesses, and names.
In so ruling, the court wrote that “the retired players have a common interest in determining what their Group Licensing Agreements rights were during the period in question. There continues to exist a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the GLAs guaranteed retired players something more than empty promises.”
By way of background, the NFLPA serves as the union for NFL players. Nearly all active NFL players give the NFLPA the right to market their names and images pursuant to the NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement with the league. The National Football League Players Incorporated, doing business as Players Inc., is a subsidiary of the NFLPA, which is responsible for marketing and licensing. Players Inc. purports to market active and retired players by licensing their images for purposes such as trading cards, video games, television and radio programming, personal appearances, autograph signings, internet sites, and events.
The plaintiffs are retired professional football players. Retired NFL players are given the opportunity to join the NFLPA by paying annual dues. The NFLPA offers a “Retired Players Group Licensing Program” (or GLA) in which the NFLPA offers third parties the right to license the images, likenesses, and names of retired players.
The plaintiffs that signed a GLA contend that they received no revenue from the arrangement and that the NFLPA “breached a fiduciary duty owed to its retired members by withholding information about benefits to which those members might have been entitled and by failing to pursue licensing opportunities on their behalf, even though the NFLPA held itself out to represent its members in such a capacity.”
In its motion for summary judgment the NFLPA argued that there “was no evidence to support the allegations” that the plaintiffs were not compensated.
The judge tipped his hand at the beginning of his analysis, labeling the GLA “a masterpiece of obfuscation (that) raises more questions than it answers” and that the defendant’s motion for summary judgment “does not adequately answer those questions.”
Bernard Paul Parrish et al v. National Football League Players Association et al; N.D. Cal. No. C 07-00943 8/6/08
Attorneys of Record: {for plaintiffs) Noel Scott Cohen, Ronald Stanley Katz, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Manatt Phelps & Phillips, LLP, Palo Alto, CA; Ryan S. Hilbert, LEAD ATTORNEY, Manatt Phelps & Phillips, Palo Alto, CA; Claire Elise Goldstein, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, Redwood Shores, CA. (for defendants) Elizabeth A. Maley, Jeffrey L. Kessler, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Christopher Hurd, David G. Feher, David L. Greenspan, Eamon O’Kelly, Eric Laufgraben, Jeffrey S. Rugg, Marc Edelman, Molly Donovan, Dewey Ballantine LLP, New York, NY; Bruce S. Meyer, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, New York, NY; Jane Marie Guthrie, Dewey Ballantine, East Palo Alto, CA; Joseph Richard Wetzel, Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP, Redwood [*2] Shores, CA; Kenneth L. Steinthal, Weil Gotshal & Manges, New York, NY.


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