By: Benjamin Moffitt
If you are a New Orleans Saints fan, you are likely upset about the blown pass interference call in the NFC Championship game between that Saints and Los Angeles Rams that cost your team a chance to play in the Super Bowl. Many Saints fans took to the internet and social media to express their ire with the blown call, but a couple of Saints fans took out their anger in a different way, by suing the NFL. The Saints fans intent is to force the NFL to potentially reverse the outcome of the playoff loss to the Rams. The fans argue that “the NFL has an obligation to its fans and ticket holders to enforce its own rules such that the integrity of the game is not called into question.” The fans further argue that “the NFL’s rules allow for you to take action so that an irreparable harm does not occur by allowing the outcome of the Saints-Rams game to remain intact.” Specifically, NFL Rule 17 allows the commissioner to take corrective action “if any club action, non-participant interference, or calamity occurs in an NFL game which the commissioner deems extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effective on the result of the game.” This rule authorizes the commissioner, among other things, to reverse the game’s result or reschedule the game. The petition filed the Saints fans alleges that Saints fans are “left bereft and with no faith in the National Football League for fairness despite the leagues own rules to correct such errors, along with emotional anguish, monetary loss for season ticket holder, who purchased tickets with the presumption of integrity and fairness.”
These types of legal actions over outcomes of sporting contests have generally been difficult to pursue,and in response, the NFL has argued to a Louisiana federal court that the Saints fans should not be allowed to pursue this particular lawsuit because the ticket holders do not have standing to sue in federal court over the missed call. The NFL argues that precedent establishes that the Saints fans’ “claimed injuries do not give them standing to sue the league over the game.” The Third Circuit in the past has held that a blown call does not give standing to ticket holders. The NFL further argues that the rule giving the commissioner power to change the outcome of the game is solely up to the commissioner’s discretion and therefore, “that is discretion that fans and ticket holders do not have standing to pierce, and it discretion that no court can compel the exercise of.”
In response to these arguments, a Louisiana federal judge ruled that the Saints fans cannot compel the NFL to reverse the outcome of the game or reschedule the game. The judge agreed with the NFL and found that the Saints fans do not have standing to compel the commissioner to replay the game with a writ of mandamus. The judge reasoned that the plaintiffs are not members of the NFL and are therefore ineligible to call for a writ of mandamus. The Saints fans dropped their lawsuit after the judge ruled in favor of the NFL and undercut the main claims of their lawsuit.
Although the Saints fans do not have standing to compel the NFL to reverse the outcome of the game, what if instead they were gamblers suing for damages relating to money they lost betting on the game? Commentators have reported that they expect such suits to be filed by gamblers. Will these plaintiffs have standing to sue? The Supreme Court has said that to have standing to sue in federal court, “the plaintiff must demonstrate that he or she suffered a concrete and particularized “injury in fact,” that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant’s conduct, and that the relief sought will redress the harm.” Under this standard, it would seem like gamblers would have standing to sue in federal court. They likely have suffered an “injury in fact,” that is traceable to the referees’ conduct, and the monetary relief sought would redress the losses they suffered from the bad call.
Although gamblers could likely satisfy the standing test to be able to sue in federal court, whether they would win that suit or not is another question altogether. Perhaps the best thing that Saints fans can do is keep their chin up, hold their head high, puff their chest out, and always persevere, as Drew Brees suggested in a letter to fans after the game,but that definitely doesn’t sound as fun as suing the NFL.
See Danny Heifetz, Ball Does Lie: The Saints Just Lost on the Worst Missed Call in NFL Playoff History, THE RINGER(Jan. 20, 2019), https://www.theringer.com/nfl/2019/1/20/18190982/saints-rams-nfc-championship-game-missed-pass-interference-nickell-robey-coleman-tommylee-lewis(discussing the missed pass interference call in the Saints-Rams game).
See Trey Zandarski, Blown Call?, ARIZ. ST. SPORTS & ENT. L. J. (Mar. 12, 2019), http://asuselj.org/blown-call/(discussing how an attorney has sued the NFL hoping that the court will force the Commissioner of the NFL order that the game be replayed).
See Zachary Zagger, Saints Fans Sue Over Playoff Loss After Controversial No-Call, LAW360 (Jan. 22, 2019), https://www.law360.com/articles/1120894?scroll=1&related=1(discussing the Saints fans’ attempt to sue the NFL over the blown call).
See Mike Curley, NFL Says Saints Fans Can’t Sue Over Playoff Loss, LAW 360 (Jan. 29, 2019), https://www.law360.com/sports/articles/1123098/nfl-says-saints-fans-can-t-sue-over-playoff-loss(discussing how NFL is arguing that the Saints fans do not have standing to challenge the outcome of the Saints-Rams game).
SeeCarl Zee, Sportsbook Refunds Bets on Saints; Civil Suit Filed vs. NFL, GAMBLING.COM (Jan. 22, 2019), https://www.gambling.com/news/sportsbook-refunds-bets-on-saints-civil-suit-filed-vs-nfl-1770200(discussing how it is expected that civil suits will be filed by gamblers as a result of losses from the bad call in the Rams-Saints game).
See Terese A. West, A Primer on Standing in Federal Court, AMERICAN BARASSOCIATION(Mar. 2, 2017), https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/woman-advocate/articles/2017/primer-on-standing-in-federal-court/(discussing standing to sue in federal court).
See Saints’ Drew Brees to Fans: How ‘Heartache… Disappointment’ Will Lead to Future Success, THENEWORLEANS ADVOCATE(Jan. 28, 2019), https://www.theadvocate.com/new_orleans/sports/saints/article_cd943448-230e-11e9-bd11-0feca7526a88.html(discussing a letter that Drew Brees wrote to fans after the game).