The NFL yesterday filed its opening brief in the “Deflategate” appeal. The introduction claims that Judge Berman did not give Commissioner Goodell appropriate deference when he reversed Tom Brady’s four-game suspension:
[T]his should not have been a close case. The Commissioner exercised the precise authority that the CBA grants him when considering allegations of conduct detrimental to the game. He authorized an exhaustive investigation of the underlying conduct, which was limited only by Brady’s failure to cooperate. He conducted an extensive arbitration proceeding that conformed to the rules that govern those proceedings under the CBA. Not every evidentiary or procedural ruling went in Brady’s favor, but the CBA gives the Commissioner the authority to make those determinations and he reasonably resolved every contested issue. The Commissioner’s ultimate determination was elaborately reasoned and thoroughly grounded in the CBA. The district court’s decision vacating the Commissioner’s arbitration award cannot begin to be reconciled with the appropriate judicial standards for evaluating a collateral attack on such an action.
The NFL complained in particular that Judge Berman was wrong to evaluate Commissioner Goodell’s decision by reference to the “law of the shop”:
The court began by quoting this Court’s statement that an arbitrator “‘must interpret and apply [the collective bargaining] agreement in accordance with the ‘industrial common law of the shop.”” But whatever that statement may say about the role of an arbitrator, it in no way supports the conclusion the district court drew from it—namely, that courts are entitled to conduct a plenary review of whether the arbitrator followed the “law of the shop.” To the contrary, this Court has expressly rejected the “argument that an arbitrator has a duty to follow arbitral precedent and that failure to do so is reason to vacate an award.” What matters is whether the arbitrator’s decision is “grounded in the collective bargaining agreement,” not whether it is grounded in “arbitral precedent.” “[A]s long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority,” the court must enforce his decision—even if it is “convinced he committed serious error” or that arbitral precedent supports a different result.