Minnesota Vikings Kevin and Pat Williams can play the entire season unless a federal court claims jurisdiction over their lawsuit challenging the NFL's drug-testing procedures, Hennepin County District Court Judge Gary Larson ruled today.
Larson stayed action in his courtroom until the U.S. District Court determines whether it has jurisdiction on some of the players' claims. Federal Judge Paul Magnuson said the court does not, but a three-judge panel is hearing an appeal of his ruling in St. Paul on Aug. 18.
If the federal court determines the case should be conducted in state court, Larson wrote "it is not likely that the (Hennepin County) court would, or could force (the players into trial during the middle of a playing season, based on the court's schedule."
The Pro Bowl defensive tackles sued last year after they were found to have taken a banned substance -- unwittingly, they say -- and suspended for four games.
The NFL wanted Larson to delay state court proceedings on the matter until the 8th U.S. District Court of Appeals rules. Larson agreed to do so. "To proceed in both the Eighth Circuit and this court on such similar issues at the exact same time and then to reach conflicting results would be a colossal waste of limited resources," the judge wrote.
The players asked to proceed immediately in state court with a trial before the season begins. Absent a trial next month, the players asked that Larson let them take the field and conduct a trial after the season - which he agreed to do.
The Williamses filed a lawsuit in state court contending that the NFL's drug-testing procedures violate state workplace laws, and they asked that a judge void their suspensions.
The players argue that Minnesota law gives employees an opportunity to explain use of a product innocently used but otherwise banned, but the NFL didn't allow the Williamses to explain their use of the over-the-counter supplement StarCaps. The supplement was found to contain the banned diuretic bumetanide, which can mask steroid use but was not listed as an ingredient on the label.
Meanwhile, the NFL Players Association filed suit in federal court on the players' behalf. As part of that suit, NFL attorneys argued that federal court had jurisdiction over the labor laws that govern its drug-testing program and that the state claims should be dismissed.
Magnuson dismissed the union's claims that the suspensions violated the players' collective bargaining agreement. But he sent the Williamses' claims under state law back to state court, saying they were not pre-empted by the union agreement as the NFL had argued.
Both sides have appealed parts of Magnuson's rulings.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747