A federal judge in New Orleans on Thursday tossed out a lawsuit filed by a pair of Saints ticket-holders over the infamous “no call” that cost the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl, ending a long-shot gambit by embittered fans to resurrect the team's championship hopes.
U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan rejected the ticket-holders' pursuit of a court order to force NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to investigate the blown call in the NFC title game and then make a decision on whether to rewind the game clock.
The plaintiffs in the case, Tommy Badeaux and Candis Lambert, claimed that, under an arcane NFL rule, Goodell was obligated to take action on the refereeing snafu that unfolded to the horror of Saints fans in the waning minutes of the Jan. 20 title game. Goodell and NFL lawyers have said the rule they cited doesn't apply to the scenario.
Morgan wasn't buying the plaintiffs' claim, regardless. In her 17-page ruling, she found that Saints ticket-holders and fans have no right to compel the NFL or Goodell to do anything.
Her denial was the result that most legal analysts had expected from a lawsuit that included "Who Dat Nation" as an aggrieved party and featured a large picture of the crucial play as an exhibit.
The suit sought a "writ of mandamus," a legal measure normally reserved for agencies or corporations that fail to perform duties required of them by law.
It was filed two days after referees on the field failed to call a penalty on Los Angeles Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, who blatantly mauled Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis well before a Drew Brees pass whizzed past them.
Had the refs called pass interference, or a helmet-to-helmet hit on the same play — for which the NFL later levied a stiff fine on Robey-Coleman, in a tacit admission of the blown call — the Saints could have wound down the clock to kick a game-winning field goal. Instead, the Rams came out 26-23 winners in overtime, sending stunned Saints fans shuffling out of the Mercedez-Benz Superdome in eerie silence.
Morgan, a Barack Obama nominee to the court who took the bench in 2012, first ruled Thursday that the lawsuit, filed last week in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, qualified as a class action, and that the “amount in controversy” exceeded $5 million. That meant the NFL had cleared the legal threshold to “remove” the case to federal court, placing jurisdiction squarely with Morgan.
But Morgan then discarded the lawsuit itself while chiding the plaintiffs' attorneys for shifting positions on just what they wanted out of the NFL and Goodell.
"It is clear the plaintiffs seek a writ directed to defendant Goodell," Morgan wrote. "It is unclear what action plaintiffs seek to compel him to do."
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A Hail Mary heave by Saints ticket-holders to hold the NFL to account for the infamous “no call” that cost the team a likely berth in the Supe…
Lawyers for the Saints fans ultimately claimed they wanted no money, only for Goodell to “do the right thing" and order at least the last few minutes of the title game replayed. They acknowledged, though, that they had no right to force Goodell to make any specific decision.
They claimed Goodell had shirked his responsibility to investigate an on-field "calamity" that unfairly turned the outcome of a game, and to exercise what they described as his power to rewind the action.
Goodell, though, claimed in a news conference Wednesday that he had no such authority, saying he never even considered intervening after the blatant no-call.
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Goodell said the NFL rule in question, Rule 17, specifically bars him from interceding in on-field judgment calls. He also described NFL coaches and teams as being “very resistant” to allowing league officials to order up penalty flags remotely, in part for fear that it would open the barn door to endless second-guessing.
“That’s part of this issue of not wanting a replay official or an official back in New York throwing a flag on a no-call,” Goodell said. “If that happens, you could have multiple fouls on a play that people are looking at.”
Since the botched play, the lawsuits and resounding bitterness of Saints fans has been met with scorn on social media by fans of other NFL teams — most notably the Rams — who have pointed to various sports injustices that have been left to stand. Their message: Get over it.
New Orleans attorney Frank D’Amico, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of the two plaintiffs as well as “Who Dat Nation,” did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the decision.
A second lawsuit against the NFL over the blown call, also filed in Orleans Parish Civil District Court, remains pending.