In NFL limbo for the past five-plus months, Adrian Peterson’s future with the Minnesota Vikings is still in question.

The path toward resolution of his status has been cleared, though the clash between league and union over the personal conduct policy persists.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL were handed a second high-profile legal defeat Thursday, when U.S. District Judge David Doty overruled league arbitrator Harold Henderson’s December denial of the six-time Pro Bowl running back’s appeal.

Doty ruled that Henderson “failed to meet his duty” in considering Peterson’s punishment, for the child abuse charge that brought national backlash for the league on the heels of the bungled handling of the assault case involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

Doty said the league cannot retroactively apply the standards of its new, tougher personal conduct policy to an action by Peterson that occurred before the policy was in place. The league suspended Peterson through at least April 15 under the new standard, which arose from the furor over the handling of the assault involving Rice. But Doty said in his 16-page ruling that Henderson “simply disregarded the law of the shop and in doing so failed to meet his duty” under the collective bargaining agreement.

NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement Doty’s decision was a “victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness.”

The NFL promptly filed its protest to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The league also returned Peterson to the exempt list he spent two months on last season pending completion of the process. The NFL also said further arbitration proceedings in front of Henderson could be held before an appeal is heard by the 8th Circuit.

“Judge Doty’s order did not contain any determinations concerning the fairness of the appeals process under the CBA, including the commissioner’s longstanding authority to appoint a designee to act as hearing officer,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “Even so, we believe strongly that Judge Doty’s order is incorrect and fundamentally at odds with well-established legal precedent governing the district court’s role in reviewing arbitration decisions.”

The Vikings chimed in a little later with moral support for Peterson, whom they have heaped praise on in recent weeks.

“Adrian Peterson is an important member of the Minnesota Vikings, and our focus remains on welcoming him back when he is able to rejoin our organization,” the Vikings said.

Peterson’s return to the exempt list was just as critical of a development in this saga as was Doty’s ruling. Being on the exempt list means the Vikings can now have direct contact with Peterson, which they couldn’t while the suspension was in effect. Also, when the market opens March 10, they’d be allowed to trade him if they wanted. They could release him or try to restructure his contract at any time.

Peterson’s existing deal is through 2017, carrying a $15.4 million salary cap hit for 2015. If the Vikings cut him, they’d owe him no more money and take only a $2.4 million hit to their salary cap.