The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit revived a lawsuit filed by ex-NFL players who claim at the league improperly plied them with painkillers to keep them on the field.
The move resurrects a proposed class-action lawsuit, which was dismissed by a lower court.
The NFL has been defending itself on this issue for more than four years. The league argued in 2014 that the federal labor law and collective bargaining agreement between players and NFL team owners provided other means for a resolution.
A panel of three judges disagreed with the decision.
“The panel rejected the NFL’s argument that the dismissal should be affirmed on the ground that the players failed to exhaust the grievance procedures required by the CBAs,” the judges wrote in the opinion.
The decision means that the case can move one step closer to discovery and the players will have another chance to have their claims heard in court. The players argue that the NFL did not warn them about the consequences of the drugs, which they claim has left them with chronic health issues.
The lawsuit accuses the NFL of administering potent painkillers without medical supervision or appropriate prescriptions and in illegal, dangerous doses.
The court’s opinion was focused on whether the case should move forward and not on the merit of the players’ claims.
“Perhaps plaintiffs can prove these elements; perhaps not,” the opinion stated. “That must await completion of discovery. We hold only that the plaintiffs’ negligence claim regarding the NFL’s alleged violation of federal and state laws governing controlled substances is not preempted.”
Brian McCarthy, NFL spokesman, said the league expects the lawsuit to be thrown out.
The case is one of two drug-related lawsuits brought before the U.S. District Judge William Alsup in the Northern District of California.