The NFL’s six-game suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott stemming from domestic violence allegations has been reinstated by a federal appeals court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted the league’s request for an emergency stay of the injunction that was issued by a federal judge to keep Elliott’s suspension on hold while his case proceeds in court.
The NFL said it would enforce Elliott’s suspension beginning immediately. If that stands, Elliott would be eligible to return to the Cowboys on Nov. 24, the league said, which would be a day after the team’s Thanksgiving matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, and in time for its Nov. 30 game against the rival Redskins.
“Earlier today, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the preliminary injunction that prohibited the league from imposing the six-game suspension issued to Ezekiel Elliott for a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy,” the league said in a written statement. “The Court also directed the district court to dismiss the union’s lawsuit which was filed on Elliott’s behalf. As a result, Elliott’s suspension will begin effective immediately.”
Elliott’s legal representatives were said to be sorting through their options.
The appeals court judges voted, 2-1, to grant the NFL’s request to lift the injunction. The league had argued that the district court in Texas that granted the injunction did not have proper jurisdiction because the players’ union filed its case on Elliott’s behalf before his appeal was completed. Two of the three appeals court judges agreed with that. The dissenting judge ruled there could be merit to Elliott’s claim that the NFL’s appeal process was not fair.
The union said in a written statement: “The NFLPA is reviewing the decision and considering all options. The appellate court decision focuses on the jurisdictional issues. The failures of due process by the NFL articulated in the District Court’s decision were not addressed.”
The union and Elliott’s attorneys could appeal the ruling of the three-judge panel to the entire appeals court. They could attempt to put the suspension back on hold by seeking an injunction or temporary restraining order in federal court in New York, where the NFL filed a lawsuit attempting to affirm the arbitration decision that upheld the suspension. Or Elliott’s legal team could refile the case in Texas and seek an injunction.
But if the suspension goes through, Elliott will miss games against the San Francisco 49ers, Redskins, Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and Chargers.
The Cowboys declined to comment “at this time” through a spokesman.
The ruling came after oral arguments were conducted last week in New Orleans before a three-judge panel of the court.
The league concluded after a lengthy investigation that Elliott was guilty of violence in a series of incidents last year involving his former girlfriend. Authorities in Columbus, Ohio, did not charge Elliott with a crime. League-appointed arbitrator Harold Henderson rejected the NFL Players Association’s appeal on Elliott’s behalf and upheld the suspension imposed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell under the sport’s personal conduct policy.
The NFLPA took its challenge to federal court in Texas. U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant granted the NFLPA’s request for a preliminary injunction. Mazzant ruled that Elliott did not receive a fair appeal hearing before Henderson, in large part because Elliott’s accuser and Goodell did not testify.
The NFL, maintaining that it adhered to the league’s disciplinary procedures, quickly sought the intervention of the New Orleans-based appeals court.
The NFL previously prevailed at the appellate level in cases involving Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady in which the NFLPA challenged disciplinary measures and scored victories at the district court level. In Brady’s case, his four-game suspension for his alleged role in the Deflategate scandal was enforced at the outset of last season after he played the entire 2015 season based on a ruling by a federal judge.
Elliott, the league’s leading rusher last season as a rookie, has 393 rushing yards in five games this season.
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