Brown v. Pro Football Inc.

PETITIONER: Brown
RESPONDENT: Pro Football Inc.
LOCATION: Texas General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 95-388
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 518 US 231 (1996)
ARGUED: Mar 27, 1996
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1996

ADVOCATES:
Gregg H. Levy - Argued the cause for the respondents
Kenneth W. Starr - Argued the cause for the petitioners
Lawrence G. Wallace - On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioners

Facts of the case

After their collective-bargaining agreement expired, the National Football League (NFL) -- a group of football clubs -- and the NFL Players Association -- a labor union -- began to negotiate a new contract. The NFL presented a plan that would permit each club to establish a "developmental squad" of substitute players, each of whom would be paid the same $1,000 weekly salary. The union disagreed. When the negotiations reached an impasse, the NFL unilaterally implemented the plan. A number of squad players brought an antitrust suit, claiming that the employers' plan unfairly restrained trade. The District Court awarded damages to the players, but the Court of Appeals reversed that decision.

Question

Are several employers immune from a union anti-trust suit when these employers, bargaining together, unilaterally impose terms on the union if the collective bargaining process reaches an impasse?

Media for Brown v. Pro Football Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 27, 1996 in Brown v. Pro Football Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 95-388, Antony Brown v. Pro Football, Inc., doing business as the Washington Redskins.

Mr Starr.

Kenneth W. Starr:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case brings before the Court an important question under the implied labor exemption to the antitrust laws.

At issue is the legality of unilateral action in the labor market taken by the 28 clubs of the National Football League which enjoy monopsony power.

Using the considerable enforcement authority of the Commissioner of the league, the clubs unilaterally imposed a drastic salary restraint by eliminating competition for a small minority of the 1,600 players of the National Football League.

Specifically, the restraint fixed the compensation of developmental squad players at a parsimonious $16,000 for the regular season in 1989.

The court below, reversing Judge Lamberth, shielded the NFL clubs from antitrust scrutiny.

The court found a complete repugnancy between antitrust and collective bargaining, and in the process gave professional sports leagues virtually the same exemption from antitrust scrutiny that only baseball had previously enjoyed, and that Congress has never seen fit to grant, and Congress knows full well how to create exemptions from the antitrust laws, as it did so explicitly in the statutory labor exemption.

For three reasons, we submit respectfully the result below should not stand.

First and foremost, our primary submission, there is no clear conflict.

There is no repugnancy between antitrust and labor policy in this particular setting of a competitive labor market.

To the contrary.

For many years, from this Court's decision in Radovich through the seminal case of Mackey v. The National Football League and then beyond, McCourt from the Sixth Circuit, applying the Mackey analysis for professional hockey, the sports world, albeit subject to antitrust scrutiny with respect to restraints in the labor market--

David H. Souter:

Is Mackey a case from this Court, Mr. Starr?

Kenneth W. Starr:

--No, Your Honor, it's an Eighth Circuit case, Mr. Chief Justice.

This Court has not had occasion to address this issue.

There have been, Your Honor, a number... Mr. Chief Justice, a number of lower court decisions.

Mackey, the Eighth Circuit decision, articulated what was for many years the subtle standard and applied in a wide variety of cases, and as a result, the sports world, although it was subject to antitrust scrutiny with respect to restraints in the labor market, enjoyed labor peace and a moderation of what would otherwise have been very extreme and rigid restraints and limitations on employee freedom, the economic freedom of players, which is ultimately what is at stake.

Not only is history and practical experience reflected by the 30 years of antitrust history, not only is history and practical experience a sure guide to the court in its decision here today, but so, too, is basic theory.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well now, the 30 years you're talking about, what, dates from Radovich?

Kenneth W. Starr:

From Radovich, then Mackey was decided in the 1970's, and then after Mackey a large number of decisions in various industries, Your Honor, including professional basketball.

William H. Rehnquist:

Are you suggesting there were no contrary decisions from the courts of appeals during this period?

Kenneth W. Starr:

Until 1989.

William H. Rehnquist:

So the... so it's from--

Kenneth W. Starr:

The 1950's.

This Court recognized the implied labor exemption in a series of cases in the 1960's.

Antitrust scrutiny had been traditionally applied, other than to baseball... this Court's historic decision in baseball had historically been applied.

After this Court articulated the implied labor exemption, numerous courts, led, first, by the Eighth Circuit, which was the first circuit to address this extensively in the 1970's, in the Mackey case, invalidated the Rozelle rule.

The Rozelle rule was challenged by players who were tied to the team under the reserve clause the Rozelle rule, tied to the team for which they were playing which had drafted them for the entirety of their careers.