Johnson v. National Football League Players Association et al
Memorandum Opinion and Order: Defendant NFLPA's motion to transfer venue (Doc. No. #16 ) is granted; its motion to dismiss (Doc. Nos. #26 / 27 ) is denied without prejudice; and the NFL defendants' motion (Doc. No. #22 ) is granted to the extent it seeks to transfer venue and is denied without prejudice in all other respects. Motions that remain pending upon transfer include plaintiff's motion to vacate arbitration reward (Doc. No. #52 ), and defendants motions (Doc. Nos. #63 and #65 ) to strike plaintiff's reply briefs (Doc. Nos. #61 and #62 ). The clerk is directed to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Judge Sara Lioi on 7/6/2017. (P,G) [Transferred from Ohio Northern on 7/7/2017.]
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
DAVID LANE JOHNSON,
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
PLAYERS ASSOCIATION, et al.,
CASE NO. 5:17-CV-0047
JUDGE SARA LIOI
Before the Court is a motion filed by defendant National Football League Players
Association (“NFLPA”) (Doc. No. 16) and another motion filed by defendants National Football
League (“NFL”) and National Football League Management Council (“NFLMC”) (collectively,
“NFL defendants”) (Doc. No. 22) seeking transfer of this case to the United States District Court
for the Southern District of New York. 1 For the reasons set forth herein, the motions to transfer
On January 6, 2017, plaintiff David Lane Johnson (“Johnson”) filed a complaint and
petition to vacate arbitration award (Doc. No. 1), along with a separate motion to vacate an
arbitration award (Doc. No. 3). Within two weeks, NFLPA filed its motion to transfer venue and
The NFL defendants first seek dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction and improper venue; they seek transfer only
alternatively. NFLPA filed a separate motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 26) asserting lack of personal and subject matter
jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, and improper venue. The Court has chosen to address solely the issue of transfer,
which automatically resolves some, but not all, of the other issues. Because this Court will terminate these motions
(some without prejudice) in their entirety, any unaddressed issues may be raised or renewed, if permitted by the
a motion to stay proceedings, the latter being joined by the NFL defendants. Within a few days,
the NFL defendants filed their motion to dismiss or transfer.
The Court initially stayed all proceedings pending a determination regarding dismissal or
transfer. Despite the stay, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint, adding several allegations
seemingly aimed at establishing a connection to this district for purposes of defeating the venue
challenge. (Doc. No. 39 [“FAC”].) In view of that action, the Court lifted the stay and, on March
10, 2017, issued a comprehensive briefing order designed to bring the unwieldy record under
As a result, the briefing on the two motions presently under consideration 2 includes the
Doc. No. 16 – Defendant NFLPA’s Motion to Transfer Venue
Doc. No. 29 – Plaintiff Johnson’s Opposition to Motion
Doc. No. 37 – Defendant NFLPA’s Reply
Doc. No. 47 – Defendant NFLPA’s Supplemental Memorandum in Support
Doc. No. 53 – Plaintiff Johnson’s Supplemental Memorandum in Opposition
Doc. No. 56 – Defendant NFLPA’s Supplemental Reply
Doc. No. 22 – NFL Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, to Transfer
Doc. No. 35 – Plaintiff Johnson’s Opposition to Motion
Doc. No. 38 – NFL Defendants’ Reply
Doc. No. 48 – NFL Defendants’ Supplemental Memorandum in Support
Doc. No. 55 – Plaintiff Johnson’s Supplemental Memorandum in Opposition
Doc. No. 58 – NFL Defendants’ Supplemental Reply
Defendants have also filed motions (Doc. Nos. 63 and 65) seeking to strike excess pages from plaintiff’s reply briefs.
(See Doc. Nos. 61, 62.) Although defendants’ motions may be well-taken in view of this Court’s orders, the Court
will leave their resolution to the discretion of the transferee court.
The FAC sets forth eleven causes of action, allegedly arising under various statutes: the
Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185; the Federal Arbitration Act
(“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 10; the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”), 29
U.S.C. § 401, et seq.; and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C.§ 2201. The first six causes of
action all seek to vacate an arbitrator’s award under the LMRA and the FAA. The seventh, eighth
and tenth causes of action allege breach of contract/breach of the duty of fair representation under
the LMRA. The ninth cause of action alleges violation of the LMRDA, and the eleventh cause of
action seeks a declaratory judgment.
A brief factual background will be helpful. Johnson, an Oklahoma resident, is a
professional football player employed by the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles club. (FAC ¶ 1.) The
NFLPA, headquartered in Washington, DC, is an employee organization recognized as the
exclusive bargaining representative of professional football players employed by the NFL. (Id. ¶
2.) The NFL, headquartered in New York City, is an unincorporated association of 32 separately
owned and operated professional football clubs, one of which allegedly resides in this district. (Id.
¶ 3.) The NFLMC, also headquartered in New York City, is an entity that represents the 32 NFL
member clubs in collective bargaining and labor relations. (Id. ¶ 4.)
Johnson is represented by the NFLPA and the terms of his employment are contained in a
collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). (Id. ¶¶ 20, 22-23.) In addition, Johnson’s employment
is governed by a collectively bargained Policy on Performance-Enhancing Substances [“PES”]
(“the 2015 Policy”). (Id. ¶ 24.) The complaint lays out the underlying facts, but the bottom line is
that Johnson was disciplined under the 2015 Policy because, on several occasions, he tested
positive for PES. This ultimately led to a ten-game suspension without pay. (Id. ¶¶ 42-56.)
Johnson appealed his suspension, and he alleges he did so “from Ohio.” (Id. ¶ 57.) 3 An
arbitrator (non-party James Carter, an attorney) issued a written decision denying Johnson’s
appeal. (Id. ¶ 67.) Johnson served his 10-game suspension from October 11, 2016 through
December 18, 2016. (Id. ¶ 68.) This lawsuit challenges defendants’ application of the 2015 Policy
as well as the ultimate outcome and disciplinary measures taken. It seeks to vacate the arbitration
award and to reinstate Johnson to good graces under the 2015 Policy and the CBA; it also seeks
compensatory and punitive damages, as well as the costs of this litigation, including attorney’s
Despite the very lengthy briefing on these two motions, the issue is quite simple: is the
Northern District of Ohio the appropriate venue for a case that:
(1) involves a plaintiff from Oklahoma who plays professionally for a football
team that operates out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and three defendants
who are headquartered in New York, NY, New York, NY, and Washington,
(2) seeks to set aside (and to obtain other relief relating to) an arbitration award
that was issued from New York, NY following an arbitration that occurred
in New York, NY.
In his original complaint, Johnson did not include any mention of Ohio when he alleged that he appealed the
suspension. The FAC added that phrase. (Compare Doc. No. 1 ¶ 54 to Doc. No. 39 ¶ 57.)
Defendants all argue that the case should be transferred to the Southern District of New
York where the events surrounding the arbitration decision occurred. Plaintiff, on the other hand,
insists that because each of the defendants regularly transacts business throughout the country,
including in this district, the case is properly venued here. Plaintiff also argues that his original
complaint sufficiently alleges that “[t]he operative facts and violations underlying this litigation,
in whole or in part, occurred within this District.” (Doc. No. 29 at 1064, 4 citing Doc. No. 1 ¶ 13.)
He further argues that he “alleged throughout his Complaint facts tha occurred in Ohio.” (Id.)
Plaintiff claims he need only make a prima facie showing that “his chosen venue is proper.” (Doc.
No. 55 at 3051-52, quoting Berman v. Arlington Bank, No. 4:12CV2888, 2013 WL 682814, at *7
(N.D. Ohio Feb. 22, 2013).)
Plaintiff’s reliance on Berman is of little assistance. There, this Court stated:
The requirements for venue are set forth by statute. Kerobo v. Sw. Clean
Fuels Corp., 285 F.3d 531, 538 (6th Cir.2002). In a civil action where jurisdiction
is not founded solely on diversity of citizenship, venue is governed by 28 U.S.C. §
1391(b), which allows the action to be brought only in (1) a judicial district where
any defendant resides, if all defendants reside in the same state, (2) a judicial district
in which a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim
occurred, or (3) a judicial district in which any defendant may be found, if there is
no district in which the action may otherwise be brought. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).
In this case, all three of the criteria establish venue in the Southern District
of Ohio. Plaintiff lists Columbus, Ohio addresses for all of the defendants. The real
property at issue is located in Columbus, Ohio. The loan transactions were
notarized in Franklin County, Ohio. The foreclosure action was filed in the Franklin
County Court of Common Pleas. In fact, plaintiff also resides in the Southern
District of Ohio. The case has no connection to this district and appears to have
been brought here in the hope of simply achieving a new result in a forum
unfamiliar with his case. Venue in the Northern District of Ohio is improper. . . .
Berman, 2013 WL 682814, at *7.
All page number references are to the page identification number generated by the Court’s electronic docketing
Plaintiff appears to be relying upon the fact that Cleveland, Ohio has an NFL team (the
Browns) as the basis for venue. He argues that “[t]he NFL Agreement demonstrates that the NFL
and its Cleveland member are contractually obligated to maintain residence in this District through
2016.” (Doc. No. 55 at 3052.) Therefore, in his view, “all Defendants are residents of this District,
[and] venue is proper under § 1391(b)(1).” (Id.)
But even if venue were proper in this district (which it is not), the Court “may exercise its
broad discretion to transfer a civil action to a more convenient forum pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1404(a).” Cescato v. Anthem, Inc., No. 1:05CV2004, 2005 WL 3487974, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Dec.
21, 2005). Although “[o]rdinarily, a plaintiff’s choice of forum deserves substantial deference[,] .
. . when the chosen forum is not the plaintiff’s residence, this choice is given less consideration.”
Id. (citations omitted).
This case is similar to NFLPA v. NFL, Civ. No. 15-3168 (RHK/HB), 2015 WL 7596934
(D. Minn. July 30, 2015), where the NFLPA filed suit in the District of Minnesota seeking to
vacate an arbitration award issued by the NFL commissioner against Tom Brady, quarterback of
the New England Patriots. Although the district judge, acting sua sponte, transferred the case to
the Southern District of New York, because a related “first-filed” action to confirm the arbitration
had been filed there by the NFLMC, in doing so it remarked:
This Court, however, perceives no reason for this action to proceed in
Minnesota. . . . Indeed, the Court sees little reason for this action to have been
commenced in Minnesota at all. Brady plays for a team in Massachusetts; the Union
is headquartered in Washington, D.C.; the NFL is headquartered in New York; the
arbitration proceedings took place in New York; and the award was issued in New
York. In the undersigned’s view, therefore, it makes eminent sense the NFL would
have commenced its action seeking confirmation of the award in the Southern
District of New York. Why the instant action was filed here, however, is far less
Id. at *1 and *2. It seems that, even if there had not been a “first-filed” case requiring transfer, the
Minnesota district judge would have transferred the case anyway.
Here, the same reasoning applies. The gravamen of the complaint (and the related refiled
motion to vacate, Doc. No. 52) is that the arbitration award was procured by corruption, fraud, and
undue means, and that the arbitrator demonstrated bias and evident partiality, refused to hear
relevant evidence and engaged in other misbehavior that prejudiced Johnson, and exceeded his
authority. (See Doc. No. 52 at 2273.) There is nothing remotely related to Ohio in any of these
Rather, as accurately observed by the NFLPA: (1) the NFL defendants are located in New
York City, the NFLPA is in Washington, DC (which is a closer to New York than to Akron), and
Johnson resides either in Oklahoma or Pennsylvania, but not Ohio; (2) all of the material events
underlying plaintiff’s action took place in New York City; (3) most, if not all, of the likely
witnesses are located in New York City or Washington, DC; and (4) relevant evidence is located
in either New York City or Washington, DC.
The Court concludes that there is no conceivable reason to retain venue in this district.
For the reasons set forth herein as well as in the defendants’ memoranda in support of their
(1) defendant NFLPA’s motion to transfer venue (Doc. No. 16) is granted; its motion to
dismiss (Doc. Nos. 26/27) is denied without prejudice; and
(2) the NFL defendants’ motion (Doc. No. 22) is granted to the extent it seeks to transfer
venue and is denied without prejudice in all other respects.
Motions that remain pending upon transfer include plaintiff’s motion to vacate arbitration
reward (Doc. No. 52), and defendants’ motions (Doc. Nos. 63 and 65) to strike plaintiff’s reply
briefs (Doc. Nos. 61 and 62).
The clerk is directed to transfer this case to the United States District Court for the Southern
District of New York.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: July 6, 2017
HONORABLE SARA LIOI
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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