NFL retiree lawsuit against union dismissed

MINNEAPOLIS -- A lawsuit filed against the NFL Players Association by retirees was dismissed Tuesday by a federal judge, who said she's "empathetic to their concerns" but ruled they had no legal right to hundreds of millions of dollars in additional post-career benefits they claimed they lost during lockout talks last year.

Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive end Carl Eller, a former Minnesota Vikings star, was the lead plaintiff in the complaint that argued current players and their attorneys had no right to bargain with NFL owners about retiree benefits because they weren't legally a union last summer.

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Michael Hausfeld, the lead lawyer for the retired players, said his group plans to appeal U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson's decision.

In an interview from his office in Washington, Hausfeld called Nelson's findings "elucidating and disappointing overall."

There were several dozen ex-players, many of them Hall of Famers, on the lawsuit who felt they were cheated by the current players. They estimated they were promised between $300 million and $500 million in additional benefits in the early stages of collective bargaining agreement talks, money that they didn't get when the labor dispute was settled last summer.

They contended they were pushed out of negotiations to streamline the mediation process, despite a court order for their inclusion. Those labor talks led to the new CBA between the owners and players and saved the 2011 season.

The lawsuit named NFLPA boss DeMaurice Smith, New England quarterback Tom Brady and former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel. Brady and Vrabel were plaintiffs on the antitrust lawsuit filed by the current players against the NFL in March before the lockout.

The union's response to the complaint was filed under seal, and the NFLPA has declined to comment on the case.

Nelson wrote that she accepted the factual allegations by the Eller class as true but disagreed that the current players acted illegally. She ruled that since the active players were negotiating their own contract with the league, they had no obligation to take "a smaller share of the pie for themselves" in order to give the retirees a bigger slice.

The former players claimed the current players owed them a "fiduciary duty," but Nelson denied the legal existence of such a relationship.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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