The arbitrator hearing Colin Kaepernick’s collusion case against the NFL ruled against the league today after the NFL requested dismissal of the case on the grounds that Kaepernick and his legal team had not presented sufficient evidence to proceed.
Under Article 17, Section 7 of the current collective bargaining agreement, the appointed arbitrator in an anti-collusion matter may “determine whether or not the complainant’s evidence is sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact” and dismiss the case if the evidence is insufficient.
This is what’s known as a motion for summary judgment, a common legal tactic used by attorneys to prevent cases from proceeding further into discovery (where potentially damaging documents or depositions could hurt you) or into trial (where you might lose). In essence, moving for summary judgment means asking a judge or arbitrator to look at the facts as they exist at that time and determine that, even if those facts are interpreted in the other party’s favor, there is no legal issue and therefore nothing to determine at trial.
What does this mean for Kaepernick?
For starters, it means he and his team get to keep pursuing the collusion grievance. That’s obviously bad for the NFL, which would like this dispute to go away without owners, general managers, coaches, or Roger Goodell’s wife having to testify in an arbitration hearing. Section 7 states that summary judgment is determined, “at any time following the conclusion of the permitted discovery.” This suggests Kaepernick’s case is likely to proceed to a hearing with the arbitrator, though the CBA doesn’t explicitly preclude multiple motions for summary judgment.
Does it mean Kaeprnick’s more likely to win?
Not necessarily. Remember, the arbitrator’s sole job on this motion is to determine whether there are any material questions of fact. At the hearing, Kaepernick, as the complaining party, has the burden of proving by “a clear preponderance of the evidence” two things: 1) that the league or its franchises engaged in collusive behavior, and 2) that in doing so Kaepernick suffered economic damage. (Preponderance of the evidence is often thought of as having more than 50% of the total evidence favoring your case, and it’s a much lower standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the burden of proof the prosecution has in a criminal case.)
At the federal trial level, a 2007 study by the Federal Judicial Center found that about 17 percent of the civil cases they examined had at least one summary judgment motion filed, and only 5 percent of those resulted in the case being terminated entirely. So while this ruling wasn’t good for the NFL, it also shouldn’t have been especially surprising.
Summary judgment exists to prevent the unnecessary time and expense of taking cases that have no merit to the finish line. Today’s ruling doesn’t mean that Colin Kaepernick’s going to win his case — but it means he’s going to have a viable shot.
That or the NFL just decides to settle and pay Kaepernick some sum of money to avoid any potential embarrassment.