La'el Collins Lawsuit Takes Key Turn to Federal Court and Lands With Zeke Judge

BY: DAN WALLACH AND STEPHANIE WEISSENBURGER

Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri, Associated Press


Conduct Detrimental has obtained copies of pertinent court documents filed in relation to Dallas Cowboys starter La’el Collins’ lawsuit against the NFL. Collins is seeking to block the rest of his NFL suspension with a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction.


While the lawsuit was initially filed in Texas state court, the NFL and Roger Goodell opted to remove the lawsuit to federal court and now may be regretting that decision. In a crazy turn of events, La’el Collins’ federal court case has been assigned to the Honorable Amos Mazzant III -- the same federal judge who granted Ezekiel Elliott a preliminary injunction blocking the NFL from suspending him in 2017 (before the case got transferred to New York). In his 2017 #Zeke ruling, Judge Mazzant recognized "fundamental fairness" as a ground for vacating a labor arbitration award. With Judge Mazzant officially assigned to the case, it is almost definite that Collins’ legal team will not be seeking a remand to state court. A copy of the Notice of Removal is below.

1 -- Notice of Removal
.pdf
Download PDF • 410KB

So, how did we get to this point? On January 6, 2021, Dallas Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins was suspended for five games without pay for violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. The suspension stems from Collins missing seven mandatory drug screenings since 2020 and allegedly trying to bribe the test collector. Collings timely appealed his suspension on January 7, 2021, and at one point, the NFLPA negotiated his suspension down to two games. Collins nevertheless continued pursuing the appeal, and the arbitrator ultimately reinstated his initial five-game suspension on September 9, 2021.


Collins, however, is clearly not giving up without a fight. On Wednesday afternoon, Collins’ attorneys, Scott J. Becker and Levi G. McCathern, filed a request for a restraining order and immediately injunctive relief to reinstate Collins from league suspension. A copy of the Original Petition and Application for Temporary Restraining Order and Temporary Injunction and Permanent Injunction is below.

3 -- Petition and Application for TRO
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.56MB

The petition alleges that the NFL “failed to follow the National Football League’s Policy and Program on Substances of Abuse 2020 (the “Policy” or the “2020 Policy”) and wrongfully suspended Mr. Collins by making material misrepresentations to the tribunal.” In citing immediate and irreparable harm caused by such “wrongful actions”, it is revealed that Collins has already lost over $182,352. (2/17’s of Mr. Collins $1,550,000 base salary for 2021) from missing two games.


Collins highlights important changes to the Policy pursuant to the 2020 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA. Most importantly, the changes made regarding the kinds of discipline players may face for violations of the Policy. A copy of the Policy attached to the Petition as Exhibit 2 is below.

3-2 -- NFL Substance Abuse Policy
.pdf
Download PDF • 812KB

In Paragraph 1.5.2(c), the 2020 Policy sets forth the sole and exclusive disciplinary measures that the NFL may impose on a player already in the Intervention Program based upon the number and kind of Policy violations shown to have occurred:

Collins argues that, “In both its plain text and in the structure of the permissible penalties it provides, the 2020 Policy thus makes clear that positive tests or unexcused failures to appear for testing are never grounds for suspension or banishment, no matter how many violations occur and regardless of the player’s status in the Intervention Program.”


Collins alleges that at the Hearing, on two separate occasions, the NFL intentionally mislead the arbitrator by stating Mr. Collins had previously received a four (4) game suspension from the NFL. First, in its opening statement, the NFL stated: “Mr. Collins was written up for a four-game suspension. And Mr. Collins was warned that any future failures to cooperate would result in a suspension. So here we are again with another failure to cooperate, and the NFL has suspended [Mr. Collins] for five games. That is progressive discipline, four to five.”

Second, in its closing statement, the NFL stated: “Mr. Collins is only suspended for five games, and that is not outrageous, especially since we warned him after the four-game suspension.” A copy of Exhibit 1, the pertinent portions of the Hearing transcript, is attached below.

3-1 -- Opening Statement
.pdf
Download PDF • 1.33MB

Furthermore, Collins cites to the fact that the arbitrator stated in the Award that “Mr. Collins previously had received a four-game suspension based on prior conduct, and the discipline imposed, a five-game suspension, is ‘additional’ to that and is the next logical progression from prior discipline. It is proportional and reasonable.” A copy of the relevant portions of the Arbitral Award is below.

3-4 -- Statement
.pdf
Download PDF • 183KB

This story will be updated as more details are provided. Be sure to follow us on Conduct Detrimental.

You can find us on Twitter: Dan Wallach @WallachLegal and Stephanie Weissenburger @SWeissenburger_.