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NFL Takes Its Deflategate Case to the Second Circuit

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 28, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When the New England Patriots were caught using slightly deflated footballs in championship games, allegations of cheating soon followed. In response, the NFL suspended Pat's quarterback Tom Brady for four games. "Deflategate" or, as some call it, "Ballghazi," soon went before the federal courts, where U.S. District Judge Richard Berman vacated Brady's suspension this September.

Now Brady's controversial footballs are directly before Second Circuit, with the NFL submitting the first brief in its appeal. The court, the League argues, overstepped its bounds by reversing the NFL's decisions on an issue that "struck at the heart of the game's integrity."

I Defer to Me. Why Don't You Defer to Me?

Deflategate may have left a permanent black mark on Tom Brady's career, but it's also been a testament to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's inability to make his punishments stick. In four major punishment cases, from Adrian Peterson's domestic violence to Brady's Ballghazi, Commissioner Goodell has seen his suspensions reversed.

Key to that reversal, at least in Brady's case, was the NFL's policy of having the Commissioner review his own decisions. As Judge Berman wrote in September:

The Court is fully aware of the deference afforded to arbitral decisions, but, nevertheless, concludes that the Award should be vacated. The Award is premised upon several significant legal deficiencies, including (A) inadequate notice to Brady of both his potential discipline (four game suspension) and his alleged misconduct; (B) denial of the opportunity for Brady to examine one of two lead investigators, namely NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash; and (C) denial of equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes.

If the NFL can convince the Second Circuit that Commissioner Goodell actually deserved some deference, it would be a much needed win for the League. The NFL hasn't spared any expenses on appeal either. It's brought on Paul Clement, the famous Supreme Court litigator. His going rate? Just $1,350 per hour.

The NFL's Main Argument

Central to the NFL's appeal is the claim that Judge Berman "vastly exceeded the narrow bounds of judicial review." Their brief argues that "the district court egregiously overstepped the bounds of its proper role," ESPN reports, and characterizes the dismissal of Brady's suspension as "unfathomable." According to the NFL, there was plenty of evidence to support the League's suspension decision -- as well as evidence connecting Brady to the scheme and cover up attempts.

It's too early now to say how successful the NFL will be. The Second Circuit is reviewing Judge Berman's decision de novo, so the League will have a chance to remake its case. So, of course, will Brady and the NFL Players' Association. Their response is expected in the near future.

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