NEW YORK — NBA players filed an antitrust complaint against the league in Minnesota and plan to file another complaint in California later Tuesday.
The first antitrust suit vs. the NBA was filed in Minneapolis, where NFL players had some level of success in a similar court proceeding this summer.
Timberwolves forward Anthony Tolliver, Pistons guard Ben Gordon, free agent forward Caron Butler and Derrick Williams, the second overall draft pick by Minnesota in June who has yet to sign a rookie contract because of the lockout, are listed as plaintiffs in the Minnesota case.
NBA players’ association executive director Billy Hunter said another complaint will be filed in the Northern District of California. Those plaintiffs include Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Leon Powe.
According to the Minnesota complaint, the class-action lawsuit has been broken up into “subclasses” because they are “so numerous and geographically so widely dispersed that joinder of all members is impracticable.”
The plaintiffs argue that the lockout “constitutes an illegal group boycott, price-fixing agreement, and/or restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman Act” and that the owners’ final offer for a new CBA would have “wiped out the competitive market for most NBA players.”
David Boies, an attorney for the players, said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon the lawsuit was an attempt to restore competitive free-market conditions.
“We hope it’s not necessary to go to trial,” he said.
The NBA already has filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in New York seeking to prove the lockout is legal and contends that without a union that collectively bargained them, the players’ guaranteed contracts could legally be voided. During oral arguments on Nov. 2, the NBA asked U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe to decide the legality of its lockout, but he was reluctant to wade into the league’s labor mess. Gardephe has yet to issue a ruling.
The league through its earlier lawsuit had tried to gain the legal home court.
Now, various judges will have to sort who which court or courts will decide the issues.
The Minnesota district court has been favorable to the NFLPA during litigation dating to the 1980s. The federal court in San Francisco is under the jurisdiction of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the most liberal of the 13 circuit courts. Sixteen of the 25 active judges were appointed by Democratic presidents, and the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the 9th Circuit’s Judge Stephen Reinhardt three times in just the last term.
In a sign of the importance of the court, U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minneapolis issued a preliminary injunction ending NFL lockout on April 25, but her decision was overturned by the more conservative 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Boies argued for the NFL in that case but has since decided to take up with the players in the NBA’s labor struggle.
Attorney Barbara Berens represented some NFL players in their antitrust lawsuit as well. She wrote in the Minneapolis filing Tuesday that the NBA’s antitrust exemption no longer applies after the players disclaimed interest in the union.
“The collective bargaining process and relationship have completely broken down, and the NBA players have exercised their labor law right not to be a union,” Berens wrote.
Boies said players will not seek a preliminary injunction to lift the lockout. Because the lockout “arguably grew out of prior collective bargaining discussions,” Boies said he believes it would be very difficult to get a preliminary injunction and could delay the case.
He added that it’s in “everybody’s interests to resolve this quickly,” adding the longer it goes on, the greater the damages to the players, teams and fans.