ST. LOUIS - The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out a judge's order lifting the NFL lockout, handing the league a key victory.
The appellate court issued its decision Friday, even as the league and its locked-out players continue negotiations intended to strike a new collective bargaining agreement and start the 2011 season on time. The first preseason game is scheduled for Aug. 7, less than a month away.
"We conclude that the injunction did not conform to the provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act ... and we therefore vacate the district court's order," the decision stated, adding: "The text of the Norris-LaGuardia Act and the cases interpreting the term "labor dispute" does not require the present existence of a union to establish a labor dispute."
The appellate court ruled on an April 25 decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who put the lockout on hold after players argued they were suffering irreparable harm. The appeals court put that order on hold and its final decision said Nelson ignored federal law in reaching her decision.
"Whatever the effects of the union's disclaimer on the League's immunity from antitrust liability, the labor dispute did not suddenly disappear just because the Players elected to pursue the dispute through antitrust litigation rather than collective bargaining," Friday's decision stated.
The 54-page ruling did include language that NFL Network's Albert Breer reports is good news for the players' side as well.
The ruling did not express any views on the players' antitrust lawsuit. "What that means is players have a piece of leverage here, too," Breer tweeted. "Antitrust litigation can go forward. Damages liability there for owners."
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith arrived Friday to start a second straight day of negotiations at a law firm in Manhattan.
The NFL and players union released a joint statement after the ruling stating talks would continue as both sides work towards a resolution.
"While we respect the court's decision, today's ruling does not change our mutual recognition that this matter must be resolved through negotiation," the statement said. "We are committed to our current discussions and reaching a fair agreement that will benefit all parties for years to come, and allow for a full 2011 season."
Members of the NFLPA executive board and owners are meeting Friday in hopes of resolving a lockout that began in March.
Also in the building were several executive board members, including NFLPA president Kevin Mawae and NFL owners. The owners included John Mara of the New York Giants and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys.
Three sources characterized Thursday as a very difficult day of negotiation. At times, it was tenuous, and there were frustrations for those involved.
But the owners and players stayed at it for 12½ hours, meeting until 10:30 p.m. ET in Manhattan, with a few staying behind to complete wrap-up work and lingering until 11:30 p.m. The result, according to those involved, was a healthy amount of progress on the core economic issues that made the talks so difficult during another long session.
In addition, a conference call was held for the 10 named plaintiffs in the Brady et al vs. National Football League et al antitrust case, to prepare them for upcoming logistics and contingencies with the negotiations in a critical stage.
One remaining issue is retired players' benefits, which flows into the revenue-split debate. Owners and players didn't settle the funding for such benefits late last week, and a group of retired players -- led by Carl Eller -- filed a lawsuit Monday in a Minneapolis court seeking to halt the ongoing negotiations and prevent the active players from representing them in that setting.