A Florida state appeals court has reversed the opinion of a trial court, finding that a football player in a workers’ compensation case was not entitled to benefits after he was injured during a tryout with an Arena Football League (AFL) team.
In remanding the case back to the trial court, the panel of judges reasoned that the claimant was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits because the league did not sign the standard player contract, and, thus, the claimant was not an employee of the league. Further, his participation in the tryout did not show assent on behalf of the league to hire him as a skilled football player for the duration of a football season.
The claimant, Bryon Bishop, once played for the Orlando Predators in the AFL. Although he and the team parted ways after just one season, Bishop later participated in a Predators tryout, hoping to resume his professional football career. On the second day of the two-day tryout, Bishop suffered an on-the-field injury. The issue in this case is whether the AFL must provide workers’ compensation benefits for that injury.
Bishop’s entitlement to benefits “turns on whether he was an AFL employee, which turns on what we make of the ‘Standard Player Contract’ that Bishop signed (the Contract),” wrote the court.
Bishop argued that the contract “shows he was an AFL employee; the AFL contends just the opposite.” The judge of compensation claims sided with Bishop, and the AFL appealed.
The court noted that unlike the National Football League, where individual team organizations employ their own players, every player in the AFL is considered a league employee. Specifically, the contract provides that “both the player and the league verify and certify that this contract is only between the player and the league, and not between the player and his assigned team,” according to the court.
Further, the contract reads that “the League hires the player as a skilled football player for employment beginning February 1, 2013 and ending August 31, 2013.” It has three signature lines: one for “Player Signature,” one labeled “Team Rep. Acknowledgement (Mandatory),” and one for “League Signature.” Bishop signed on the “Player Signature” line, and the Orlando Predators’ coach signed on the “Team Rep. Acknowledgement.” But the “League Signature” line remained blank.
“So was there a contract or wasn’t there,” questioned the appeals court.
“Bishop offers several arguments as to why we should find there was an agreement, notwithstanding the missing signature. One argument is that no AFL signature was required because the Contract itself does not say signatures are required. This argument cannot succeed; a contract cannot be enforceable against a nonsignatory simply because it does not expressly provide that signatures are required. Cf. D.L. Peoples Grp., Inc. v. Hawley, 804 So. 2d 561, 563 (Fla. 1st DCA 2002) (‘Where one contracting party signs the contract, and the other party accepts and signs the contract, a binding contract results.’). A contract requires mutual assent, Gibson v. Courtois, 539 So. 2d 459, 460 (Fla. 1989), and a form contract that provides it is between two parties, that includes a signature line for both parties, and that has only one party’s signature cannot—without more—demonstrate mutual assent.
“Bishop points to language in the contract that provides a mechanism for the AFL to unilaterally cancel the contract after its execution,” wrote the court. “The contract says that ‘after execution,’ the Contract will be filed with the AFL headquarters. The AFL’s Director of Football Operations then has ‘the right to disapprove this contract’ for various reasons. If the director exercises that right, ‘both parties will be relieved of their respective rights and obligations under this contract.’ The contract further provides that absent ‘disapproval’ within seven days, approval is automatic.
“No one from the AFL ever gave notice that the contract was ‘disapproved.’ But notwithstanding Bishop’s arguments, this does not mean the contract was automatically approved—or that a binding agreement was formed. If the contract had been executed, those provisions would have allowed the AFL to terminate the agreement, but that does not help us decide whether the contract was executed in the first place. If it was not, the contract’s ‘disapproval’ provisions never came into play. Indeed, if there was never mutual assent—evidenced by signatures or otherwise—then those provisions, like all the contract’s provisions, mean nothing.
“Bishop also suggests that the AFL could assent to the contract without signing it. It is true that parties may show assent through means other than signatures. Gateway Cable T.V., Inc. v. Vikoa Constr. Corp., 253 So. 2d 461, 463 (Fla. 1st DCA 1971) (‘The object of a signature is to show mutuality or assent, but these facts may be shown in other ways, for example, by the acts or conduct of the parties.’). But in this case, the only AFL action Bishop claims showed the AFL’s assent was the AFL’s decision to let Bishop participate in the tryout. We cannot conclude that allowing a player to participate in a tryout shows assent to ‘hire the Player as a skilled football player’ for the duration of a football season.”
Arena Football League and Arena Football One, LLC v. Bryon Bishop; Ct. App. Fla., 1st Dist.; CASE NO. 1D15-5130, 2017 Fla. App. LEXIS 8126; 42 Fla. L. Weekly D 1298; 6/6/17
Attorneys of Record: (for appellants) Meredith A. Chaiken of Tenberg Chaiken, Lighthouse Point. (for Appellee) Charles H. Leo of the Law Offices of Charles H. Leo, PA, Orlando, and Richard W. Ervin III, of Fox & Loquasto, PA, Tallahassee.