U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled in favor of Adrian Peterson on Thursday, overturning the Vikings running back's indefinite suspension from the NFL. The running back was handed an indefinite suspension in November, but successfully argued that the league had promised to reinstate him after his child abuse case had been resolved.
"Petition to vacate the arbitration award was granted. Case was remanded for further proceedings ... as the CBA may permit," Doty said in the ruling.
The league said that it would review the judge's decision as it related to Peterson's reinstatement and later issued a statement that it would appeal the ruling (via Albert Breer of NFL Network):
"Judge Doty’s order did not contain any determinations concerning the fairness of the appeals process under the CBA, including the commissioner’s longstanding authority to appoint a designee to act as hearing officer. Even so, we believe strongly that Judge Doty’s order is incorrect and fundamentally at odds with well-established legal precedent governing the district court’s role in reviewing arbitration decisions. As a result, we have filed a notice of appeal to have the ruling reviewed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the interim, Adrian Peterson will be returned to the Commissioner Exempt List pending further proceedings by appeals officer Harold Henderson or a determination by the Eighth Circuit Court."
Peterson is not yet reinstated, but it will set in motion the opportunity to go before Henderson and the NFL again in order for him to take the next step under the CBA.
The Vikings released a statement of their own shortly after the NFL announced it would challenge Judge Doty's decision:
"Adrian Peterson is an important member of the Minnesota Vikings, and our focus remains on welcoming him back when he is able to rejoin our organization. Today's ruling leaves Adrian's status under the control of the NFL, the NFLPA and the legal system, and we will have no further comment at this time."
The NFLPA is pleased with the result, with executive director DeMaurice Smith stating that it is an example of why neutral arbitration is important:
"This is a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness. Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players' rights. This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game."
Peterson was initially suspended after pleading no contest to misdemeanor assault charges. Under the terms of the suspension, Peterson would not be permitted to file for reinstatement until April 15, effectively sidelining him for the entirety on this season.
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Peterson has been held off the field since the Vikings deactivated him on Sept. 12 when the charges first came to light. After a brief return three days later, the team and the league moved to place Peterson on the commissioner's permission/exempt list while he dealt with the investigation. Peterson pleaded down to misdemeanor charges, opening the door for a return to the field.
The exempt list amounted to a paid leave of absence. According to Peterson, NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent told the running back that his time on the list would count as "time served," and that he wouldn't be subjected to the NFL's revamped domestic violence policy.
Peterson was not immediately reinstated after his plea, and was instead told to attend a Nov. 15 disciplinary hearing. Rather than face the possibility of punishment, Peterson skipped the meeting, and released a statement calling it "unfair."
"I will not allow the NFL to impose a new process of discipline on me, ignore the CBA, ignore the deal they agreed to with me, and behave without fairness or accountability," Peterson said in a statement that can be read in full on the NFL Players Association website. "The process they are pushing is arbitrary, inconsistent, and contrary to what they agreed to do, and for those reasons, I never agreed to the hearing.
"I'm sorry for all of this, but I can't excuse their refusal to be fair."
Peterson appealed that decision through the league's arbitration process, but Harold Henderson sided in favor of the league. The NFLPA filed suit in court to have the decision overturned. Doty's ruling is expected to be appealed by the NFL, and the league can seek an injunction to keep Peterson from being reinstated while the appeals process is ongoing.
In terms of Doty's ruling, it was determined that the NFL attempted to punish Peterson twice for the same violation and failed to distinguish between the old conduct policy and the new policy. Henderson previously ruled that the two policies were similar, while Doty acknowledged that Goodell admitted there were changes between the two:
Nothing in the record supports a finding that the NFLPA asked Henderson to determine whether the discipline imposed was consistent with the previous Policy. Moreover, Henderson's conclusion that the New Policy is consistent with the previous Policy is contradicted by the Commissioner's own statements in which he acknowledged that the New Policy included "changes" to the Policy. See, e.g., id. Ex. 65, at 1 ("I made a mistake. I'm not satisfied with the process we went through, I'm not satisfied with the conclusions. And that's why we came out last month and said: we're going to make changes to our policies. We made changes to our discipline.")
The entire ruling can be read below:
(h/t to Deadspin for the document)