Federal Judge Sends Former NFL Player’s Premises Liability Claim Back to State Court

Jun 9, 2017

A federal judge from the Southern District of Texas has found that federal law does not pre-empt a former NFL player’s premises liability claim under Texas law against the Houston Texans, thus remanding the lawsuit back to state court.
Plaintiff Demeco Ryans was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles when the Eagles played the Texans on Nov. 2, 2014. Ryans suffered a torn Achilles tendon that day, which allegedly ended his career. He subsequently sued in state court on Oct. 14, 2016, claiming the allegedly poor field conditions at NRG Stadium caused the injury. He named the Texans, the NFL, the Harris County Convention and Sports Corporation, and StrathAyr Turf System Pty Ltd. as defendants in the litigation.
The Texans removed the case to federal court, claiming that all of the plaintiff’s claims and causes of action are preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA); asserting that the resolution of the plaintiff’s claims would require an interpretation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. On December 30, 2016, the plaintiff filed the instant motion to remand, claiming that the matter should be handled in state court because his claims are not preempted by LMRA.
Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that his claims are not dependent on an interpretation of the CBA and are not inextricably intertwined with consideration of the CBA. The plaintiff further argued that his claims are not based on any provision of the CBA nor is the CBA the source of any of his claims.
The defendants countered that the CBA “represents the complete understanding of the parties involved. The defendants assert that player safety on the field of play during the game is among the subjects included in the CBA. The defendants further argued that the CBA addresses compensation to be received by a player should he be injured in circumstances similar to the plaintiff. Thus, the defendants asserted that the plaintiff’s claims are inextricably intertwined with, necessarily require an interpretation of the CBA and are completely preempted by the LMRA.
In its analysis, the court noted that Section 301 of the LMRA provides:
Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce . . . may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties. 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).
It went on to write that the narrow issue for review in the instant case “is whether (1) the plaintiff’s claims are ‘inextricably intertwined’ with the CBA, in which case the Court should deny the plaintiff’s motion to remand, or (2) whether the plaintiff’s claims are based on independent, non-negotiable state law rights, in which case the Court would not have jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claims. McKnight v. Dresser, Inc., 676 F.3d 426, 431 (5th Cir. 2012).
“To determine if adjudicating the claim requires interpreting the terms of a CBA, a court is required first to analyze the elements of the tort at issue.” Richter v. Merchants Fast Motor Lines, Inc., 83 F.3d 96, 97 (5th Cir. 1996). Under Texas law, a claim of negligence requires the plaintiff to prove the following elements: (1) a legal duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant; (2) a breach of that duty; and (3) damages proximately caused by the breach. See Guerra v. Regions Bank, 188 S.W.3d 744, 747 (Tex. App. 2006) (citing IHS Cedars Treatment Ctr. of DeSoto, Texas, Inc. v. Mason, 143 S.W.3d 794, 798 (Tex.2004)). Because the plaintiff’s negligence claim is one of premises liability, the plaintiff must also establish: (1) the defendants had knowledge of an unreasonable dangerous condition; (2) which posed an unreasonable risk of harm; and (3) the defendants failed to reduce or eliminate the dangerous condition. See Forester v. El Paso Elec. Co., 329 S.W.3d 832, 836 (Tex. App. 2010). The plaintiff alleged that his claims are exclusive of any rights governed by the CBA, but are instead based on violations of common law duties owed by a premises owner or lessor to invitees.”
The court posited that it “must evaluate whether the CBA is the source of the plaintiff’s claims, or whether his claims are independent, non-negotiable state law rights. The defendants argued that an analysis of the CBA and its incorporated documents is necessary to determine the scope of the above duty.
“ … (T)he Court finds that the plaintiff’s claims against the defendants are not preempted by Section 301 of the LMRA because the resolution of his claims do not require an interpretation of the CBA. While the Court acknowledges that the CBA governs certain aspects of the plaintiff’s contractual agreement with the NFL, the court is of the opinion that the terms contained therein would not be implicated in the course of the plaintiff’s presentation of his negligence claims. As held by the Supreme Court, the plaintiff’s claims do not automatically require an interpretation of the CBA, but should instead focus on the conduct of the involved parties. See Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. v. Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 252, 114 S. Ct. 2239, 2243, 129 L. Ed. 2d 203 (1994). As mentioned above, a negligence claim requires the court to examine the state common law elements of duty, breach, causation, and damages. It is clear to the court that an analysis of these elements does not require an interpretation of the CBA, which prompts the Court to return this matter to its proper venue.”
The Court concluded that the plaintiff’s premises liability claim under Texas state law “is not inextricably intertwined with consideration of the CBA because the plaintiff has not invoked the CBA to satisfy any of the elements of his claim. Accordingly, the defendants have neither met their burden of showing that Section 301 of the LMRA preempts the plaintiff’s claims, nor have they met the burden of showing the existence of this Court’s subject matter jurisdiction.”
Demeco Ryans v. Houston NFL Holdings, L.P. d/b/a HOUSTON TEXANS, et al; S.D. Tex.; CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:16-CV-3554, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66880; 5/2/17
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiff) April Ann Strahan, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Ammons Law Firm, Houston, TX; Robert Earl Ammons, LEAD ATTORNEY, The Ammons Law Firm LLP, Houston, TX. (for defendant) Dan P McManus, LEAD ATTORNEY, Tribble & Ross, Houston, TX; Wesson Hardy Tribble, LEAD ATTORNEY, Tribble Ross Wagner, Houston, TX. For SMG, Defendant: Kayla Jean Chudej, LEAD ATTORNEY, Holm Bambace LLP, Houston, TX; Peter Joseph Bambace, LEAD ATTORNEY, Holm Bambace, Houston, TX. Jeffrey S Davis, LEAD ATTORNEY, Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, Houston, TX. Robert Philip Scott, Jr, LEAD ATTORNEY, Blank Rome LLP, Houston, TX.


Articles in Current Issue