NEW YORK — The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday threw out a judge's order lifting the NFL lockout, handing the league a victory as players and owners returned to negotiations.
The ruling was issued shortly after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith opened a second straight day of labor talks at a law firm in Manhattan.
The court vacated an April 25 decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson that the lockout should be lifted because players were suffering irreparable harm. The appeals court had already put that order on hold and said in its ruling that Nelson ignored federal law in reaching her decision.
"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 league and NFLPA said in a joint statement. "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."
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During negotiations Friday the rookie wage scale and finalizing the free agency rules were discussed, according to a person familiar with the talks who requested anonymity because details are not being announced publicly. Owners want to increase the number of unrestricted free agents on which they can exercise the right of first refusal.
The appeals court ruling allows the players' antitrust lawsuit to move forward, but the court did take issue with the NFL Players Association's decision to decertify on March 11, a move that cleared the way for players to file their still-pending antitrust lawsuit against the league.
"The league and the players' union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement for almost eighteen years prior to March 2011," the appeals court said in its 2-1 decision. "They were engaged in collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment for approximately two years.... Then, on a single day, just hours before the CBA's expiration, the union discontinued collective bargaining and disclaimed its status...."
"Whatever the effect 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."
Judges Steven Colloton and Duane Benton backed the league Friday, just as the two Republican appointees did in two earlier decisions. Judge Kermit Bye, appointed by a Democrat, dissented both times, favoring the players, and he did so again Friday.
Bye had urged settlement of the dispute to avoid a ruling "both sides aren't going to like."
The two sides have been meeting for weeks to try to reach a new labor pact. On Friday, NFLPA executive board President Kevin Mawae and owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys joined Goodell and Smith for more negotiations.
On Thursday, talks stretched on for more than 12 hours, deep into the evening. Some training camps are set to open in two weeks and the first exhibition game, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions, is Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, between Chicago and St. Louis.