Upon Judicial Review, the Call on the Field Will Stand

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

By: Kurt Valentine, Web Editor


Super Bowl LIII, featuring the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams, is set to take place on Sunday, February 3, in Atlanta, Georgia.[1] Unfortunately for the Rams, the road to the final game of the 2018 National Football League (NFL) season is not without controversy. The Rams’ status as Super Bowl LIII contenders is the subject of a lawsuit filed by two New Orleans Saints’ season ticket holders against the NFL and NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell.[2]

The lawsuit stems from a play that occurred during the NFC Championship game between the New Orleans Saints and the Los Angeles Rams.[3] “With 1:49 left to play in a 20-20 game and the Saints facing a third-and-10 from the Rams’ 13-yard line, Drew Brees dropped back and threw a pass to Tommy Lee Lewis.”[4] Before the ball reached Lewis, Rams’ cornerback, Nickell Robey-Coleman, leveled Lewis with a helmet-to-helmet hit.[5] Robey-Coleman’s hit was clearly pass interference, but no penalty was called. In fact, even Robey-Coleman thought it was pass interference.[6] After the game, Robey-Coleman watched the play on a reporter’s phone and stated, “Ah, hell yeah, that was [pass interference].”[7]

The no-call is being described as “one of the worst no-calls in NFL history” and it likely cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl.[8] If the officials called pass interference, the Saints could have run the clock down and kicked a game winning field goal.[9] Instead, the Rams kicked a field goal to tie the game and won in overtime.[10]

On January 22, two days after the NFC Championship game, two Saints’ season ticket holders, Tommy Badeaux and Candis Lambert, filed a complaint in a Louisiana state court on behalf of themselves and “Who Dat Nation,” which, for fellow Pittsburghers, is the New Orleans equivalent to “Steeler Nation.”[11] The NFL subsequently moved the case to federal court.[12] The plaintiffs are seeking a court order “forcing Goodell to investigate the blown call under the never before invoked Rule 17.”[13]

Rule 17, Section 2, titled “Extraordinary Unfair Acts,” provides:

The Commissioner has the sole authority to investigate and take appropriate disciplinary and/or corrective measures if any club action, non-participant interference, or calamity occurs in an NFL game which he deems so extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of the game.[14]

Pursuant to this rule, the Commissioner has the power to, if appropriate, reverse a game’s result or reschedule a game, “either from the beginning or from the point at which the extraordinary act occurred.”[15]

During a hearing in federal court on Monday, January 28, the NFL conceded that “one or more penalties – for pass interference or illegal helmet-to-helmet contact – were mistakenly not called . . . and that the NFL would like its officials of the field to make these calls.”[16] Nevertheless, the NFL argued that Rule 17 does not apply to judgment calls by referees on the field.[17] NFL lawyer, Gladstone Jones, also noted that the NFL has never invoked Rule 17.[18] The Plaintiffs’ attorney, Frank D’Amico, argued that the NFL did invoke Rule 17 during a “2001 game between the Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars in which they commissioner ordered referees to finish the game after a disputed call led fans to throw bottles and other items onto the field.”[19]

The parties also argued over the cases removal to federal court. The NFL took the position that the federal court has jurisdiction because the case is a class action that could result in millions of dollars of damages.[20] The Plaintiffs argued that the case should be remanded to state court because the suit does not specifically request monetary damages.[21] Bobby Hjortsberg, a legal analyst for the New Orleans Fox affiliate, stated that “it’s unlikely it will move back to state court.”

Judge Susie Morgan, who is presiding over the case, has not reached a decision on the jurisdiction issue.[22] Judge Morgan also “expressed confusion over just what the plaintiffs were seeking and on what grounds they are claiming the legal standing to sue.”[23] However, the Super Bowl is less than one week away, and it does not appear that the Roger Goodell will invoke his power to reschedule the Saints-Rams game. At a press conference on January 30, Goodell was asked if he ever considered restarting or replaying the game, he responded, “absolutely not.”[24] In sum, it is evident that the no-call on the field will stand.





























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