Updated: 01/11/2014 8:24 PM KSTP.com By: Cassie Hart
KSTP file photo.
The odds are against Alex Rodriguez in federal court as he tries to overturn his season-long drug suspension.
For the past five decades, the U.S. Supreme Court has set narrow grounds for judges to consider when evaluating lawsuits to overturn arbitration decisions. That position was reaffirmed in 2001 when it ruled against Steve Garvey in his suit against the Major League Baseball Players Association stemming from the collusion cases of the 1980s.
"I don't think he has very much of a chance," said Stanford Law School professor emeritus William B. Gould IV, the former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board. "There are many cases that are appealed from arbitration awards, but the case law at the Supreme Court level makes success very much a long shot."
The Joint Drug Agreement between Major League Baseball and the players' association gives the sport's three-person arbitration panel - the independent arbitrator plus one representative of management and the union - jurisdiction to review discipline resulting from violations.
The union filed a grievance after baseball Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Rodriguez for 211 games last August, and arbitrator Fredric Horowitz presided over 12 days of hearings last fall and cut the penalty Saturday to 162 games plus the 2014 postseason.
Rodriguez is expected sue under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, also known as Taft-Hartley, which allows actions for violations of collective bargaining agreements.
"There are very specific and narrow grounds for overturning an arbitration award," said Jeffrey Kessler, a partner at Winston & Strawn who has represented players and unions in many sports. "Either there has to be a showing of partiality by the arbitrator, or there has to be a showing that there as a manifest disregard of some settled legal principle, or there has to be a fundamental denial of what's called arbitral due process - the procedures were completely defective - or it could be in a collective bargaining context a decision that's contrary to what we call the essence of the CBA. So basically there are four targets and they have to hit one of them, and they're not easy."
Garvey had sought about $3 million from the $280 million settlement in the collusion cases. While the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for Garvey and overturned the decision by arbitrator Thomas Roberts, the Supreme Court reversed.
"Established law ordinarily precludes a court from resolving the merits of the parties' dispute on the basis of its own factual determinations, no matter how erroneous the arbitrator's decision," the court wrote in an 8-1 decision.
Rodriguez's lawyers are expected to request a preliminary injunction and attempt to depose Selig - Horowitz refused to compel Selig to testify at the arbitration, and Rodriguez then walked out of the hearing. MLB may attempt to quash a subpoena and force a judge to rule.
"There's a good arbitrator there, and I'm sure he was very careful to pay attention to the record," said George Nicolau, baseball's arbitrator from 1986-95. "No court is ready to overturn that, I think, based on longstanding decisions."
The Supreme Court ruled in 1960 that "the refusal of courts to review the merits of an arbitration award is the proper approach to arbitration under collective bargaining agreements. The federal policy of settling labor disputes by arbitration would be undermined if courts had the final say on the merits of the awards."
In that case, United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Wheel and Car Corp., Justice Stephen O. Douglas wrote "an arbitrator is confined to interpretation and application of the collective bargaining agreement; he does not sit to dispense his own brand of industrial justice."
That case was cited by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1976 when it refused a request by MLB to vacate the decision by arbitrator Peter Seitz overturning baseball's reserve clause in the Andy Messersmith-Dave McNally case.
Rodriguez released the following statement:
“The number of games sadly comes as no surprise, as the deck has been stacked against me from day one. This is one man’s decision, that was not put before a fair and impartial jury, does not involve me having failed a single drug test, is at odds with the facts and is inconsistent with the terms of the Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement, and relies on testimony and documents that would never have been allowed in any court in the United States because they are false and wholly unreliable. This injustice is MLB’s first step toward abolishing guaranteed contracts in the 2016 bargaining round, instituting lifetime bans for single violations of drug policy, and further insulating its corrupt investigative program from any variety defense by accused players, or any variety of objective review.
I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged in the notice of discipline, or violate the Basic Agreement or the Joint Drug Agreement in any manner, and in order to prove it I will take this fight to federal court. I am confident that when a Federal Judge reviews the entirety of the record, the hearsay testimony of a criminal whose own records demonstrate that he dealt drugs to minors, and the lack of credible evidence put forth by MLB, that the judge will find that the panel blatantly disregarded the law and facts, and will overturn the suspension. No player should have to go through what I have been dealing with, and I am exhausting all options to ensure not only that I get justice, but that players’ contracts and rights are protected through the next round of bargaining, and that the MLB investigation and arbitration process cannot be used against others in the future the way it is currently being used to unjustly punish me.
I will continue to work hard to get back on the field and help the Yankees achieve the ultimate goal of winning another championship. I want to sincerely thank my family, all of my friends, and of course the fans and many of my fellow MLB players for the incredible support I received throughout this entire ordeal."
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