The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday threw out a judge's order lifting the NFL lockout, handing the league a victory as players and owners endured a second consecutive day of difficult negotiations at a Manhattan law firm.
The ruling vacated an April 25 decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson that the lockout should be lifted because players were suffering irreparable harm. The appeals court already had put that order on hold and said in its ruling that Nelson ignored federal law in reaching her decision.
"While we respect the court's decision, today's ruling does not change our mutual recognition that this matter must be resolved through negotiation," the league and the NFL Players Association said in a joint statement released Friday. "We are committed to our current discussions and reaching a fair agreement that will benefit all parties for years to come, and allow for a full 2011 season."
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith held a conference call with player representatives from all 32 teams to go over the court ruling.
The ruling allows the players' antitrust lawsuit against the league to move forward. But the court did take issue with the NFLPA's decision to decertify March 11, a move that cleared the way for players to file the suit.
"The league and the players' union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement for almost eighteen years prior to March 2011," the appeals court said in its 2-1 decision. "They were engaged in collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment for approximately two years. ... Then, on a single day, just hours before the CBA's expiration, the union discontinued collective bargaining and disclaimed its status. ... Whatever the effect of the union's disclaimer on the league's immunity from antitrust liability, the labor dispute did not suddenly disappear just because the players elected to pursue the dispute through antitrust litigation rather than collective bargaining."
Judges Steven Colloton and Duane Benton backed the league, just as the two Republican appointees did in two earlier decisions. Judge Kermit Bye, appointed by a Democrat, dissented both times, favoring the players, and he did so again Friday.
Bye had urged settlement of the dispute to avoid a ruling "both sides aren't going to like."
The league and players have been meeting for weeks to try to reach a new labor pact, and negotiations were held again Friday in New York.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.