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Smith v. National Football League Players Association

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

December 2, 2014

NEIL SMITH et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE PLAYERS ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

E. RICHARD WEBBER, Senior District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' "Motion to Remand" [ECF No. 9].

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Neil Smith, Ladell Betts, and Anthony Davis filed a Petition in the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri, St. Louis, on July 17, 2014 [ECF No. 1-1]. They named National Football League Players' Association ("NFLPA"), Raymond Lester Armstrong, III, Troy Vincent (who has since been dismissed as a defendant), and Kevin Mawae as defendants. Plaintiffs' petition asserts claims for fraudulent concealment, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, negligence, negligent hiring (against NFLPA only), negligent retention (against NFLPA only), medical monitoring, and civil conspiracy. On August 11, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Petition, adding Vaughn Booker, Ron Dugans, Sheddrick Gurley, Chad Johnson, Kendyll Pope, Corey Sawyer, Shevin Smith, Tarlos Thomas, Tamarick Vanover, and Keith Williams as Plaintiffs [ECF No. 4]. On September 10, 2014, Defendant NFLPA removed the Petition to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446 [ECF No. 1]. On September 11, 2014, Defendant NFLPA moved to consolidate this case with Ballard et al. v. National Football League Players Association, Case No. 4:14-cv-01267 [ECF No. 5]. On September 18, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Remand this case to the 22nd Judicial Circuit of Missouri, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) [ECF No. 9]. Plaintiffs also filed a Memorandum in Support of Motion to Remand [ECF No. 10]. Defendant NFLPA's Opposition to Motion to Remand was filed on October 16, 2014. Plaintiffs filed a Reply Memorandum in Support of Motion to Remand on October 23, 2014 [ECF No. 25].

II. FACTS

"The allegations of the complaint as set forth at the time the petition was removed are controlling." Crosby v. Paul Hardeman, Inc., 414 F.2d 1, 3 (8th Cir. 1968) (citing Pullman Co. v. Jenkins, 305 U.S. 534, 537-38 (1939)). Plaintiffs are former National Football League ("NFL") players, who had playing careers of various lengths, ranging from 1988 to 2010. During their respective careers, Plaintiffs suffered "multiple repetitive traumatic head impacts and concussions during practices and games." These injuries were neither acknowledged nor treated while Plaintiffs were players. "Defendants' wrongful conduct... directly caused or contributed to cause" Plaintiffs "to suffer harm, including... chronic traumatic encephalopathy ("CTE"), which is "caused by repetitive sub-concussive and/or concussive blows to the head."

Plaintiffs, throughout their careers, paid money to the NFLPA as association dues. Defendants assured Plaintiffs they would protect them, and owed them a fiduciary duty. Defendants state they would act in the players' best interests. However, the NFLPA did not spend significant funds on research into ways to mitigate or prevent brain trauma. The NFLPA also failed to certify medical personnel treating players, despite having a duty to do such. Plaintiffs relied on Defendants' assertions to their detriment.

Defendants were in a superior position of knowledge, and knew the dangers and risks associated with repetitive head impacts and concussions. Despite this, they knowingly concealed the information from Plaintiffs. Defendants also fraudulently misrepresented there was no link between head impacts and cognitive decline.

III. STANDARD

A claim may be removed to federal court only if it could have brought in federal court originally. Peters v. Union P. R. R. Co., 80 F.3d 257, 260 (8th Cir. 1996). The burden is on the defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction. In re Prempro Prods. Liab. Litig., 591 F.3d 613, 619 (8th Cir. 2010). Removal statutes are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand. Nichols v. Harbor Venture, Inc., 284 F.3d 857, 861 (8th Cir. 2002); In re Bus. Men's Assur. Co. of Am., 992 F.2d 181, 183 (8th Cir. 1993).

IV. DISCUSSION

Defendants removed this matter to this Court for three reasons [ECF No. 1]. First, Defendants argued removal was proper under Sections 8(b) and 9(a) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA") because the claims made by Plaintiffs constitue claims for breach of the duty of fair representation. Second, Defendants claimed removal was proper under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), because any additional duties Defendants owed to Plaintiffs would have to arise from the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"). Finally, Defendants contended removal was proper because the one non-diverse defendant was improperly joined.

Plaintiffs request remand for three reasons. First, they argue Defendants' reliance on the duty of fair representation is improper [ECF No. 10 at 3]. Second, they argue federal-question jurisdiction does not exist under § 301 of LMRA in this case [ECF No. 10 at 9]. Finally, they argue complete diversity is lacking because one of the defendants shares a state of residence with at least one of the ...


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