LATEST STORY: Has NFL used 'Rule 17'? After Saints blown call lawsuit gets hearing, judge wants more info


Update, 1:27 p.m., Monday

A federal judge in New Orleans heard from lawyers on both sides of a lawsuit filed by Saints ticket-holders aggrieved over the infamous “no call” that cost the team a likely berth in the Super Bowl to be played in Atlanta on Sunday -- but no resolution was reached Monday afternoon.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan ordered a meeting in chambers with the NFL and plaintiff lawyers for 5 p.m. today.

Gladstone Jones, a lawyer for the NFL, said at the hearing "the NFL gets it," but that the league rules in question were not meant for this situation.

"When its fans are upset, the NFL is upset … It’s a call the National Football League would have liked to see made," Jones said, in what appeared to be the first public acknowledgment by the league that its referees blew the pivotal penalty call.

The hearing came in response to a lawsuit filed last week by two Saints ticket-holders, Tommy Badeaux and Candis Lambert, on behalf of themselves and the fan base known as “Who Dat Nation.”

Among the damages the plaintiffs sought was a court order to force the league to invoke Rule 17, which requires NFL Commissioner Goodell to investigate an on-field "calamity" that unfairly turned a game - and order the teams to replay part or all of it if he sees fit.


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Jones acknowledged that the NFL has never invoked Rule 17. Regardless, he said, it doesn't apply to judgment calls by referees on the field.

New Orleans attorney Frank D'Amico Jr., who filed the lawsuit, said in court Monday that his clients "are not asking for money damages." He added that they are seeking a court order forcing the NFL to follow its own rules and bylaws - namely, for Goodell to investigate the "no call" in a process that allows for public hearings.

"We're not trying to stop the Super Bowl from going forward," D'Amico said. "We're asking a court to compel the commissioner to follow the rules."

But attorneys for the NFL said that was news to them, and they accused the plaintiffs' attorneys of shifting their demands. Morgan, the judge, expressed confusion over just what the plaintiffs were seeking and on what grounds they are claiming the legal standing to sue.

Viewed by legal analysts as a wild longshot to succeed, the lawsuit seeks redress from the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell over the mental anguish, emotional trauma and economic loss the plaintiffs claim they suffered from the epic officiating debacle on Jan. 20.

That’s when the referees failed to flag a blatant pass-interference penalty on a Los Angeles Rams player who had decked wide receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived in the waning minutes of the NFC title game.

A penalty on the play would have allowed the Saints to wind the clock nearly all the way down and kick a likely game-winning field goal.

Check back for updates.

ORIGINAL STORY

A federal court hearing is scheduled for noon Monday in a lawsuit filed by a pair of Saints ticket-holders seeking redress from the NFL over the infamous Jan. 20 “no call” penalty that cost the team a trip to the Super Bowl this Sunday in Atlanta.

In a filing over the weekend, the NFL issued a jaundiced response to legal action from ticket-holders seeking compensation or a replay of all or part of the NFC title game.

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A blown pass-interference call with less than two minutes left and the Saints deep in Los Angeles Rams territory stripped the team of a chance to let the clock run down and kick a short, likely game-winning field goal.

The league argued that fans and ticket-holders “do not have standing to seek remedies from dissatisfaction with the outcome of (a) game.”

The request by the plaintiffs -- for a judge to force the league to enforce its own rules -- is legally out of bounds, the NFL argued.

League attorneys cited several failed civil suits over disputes between professional sports leagues and fans, making special note of a lawsuit filed by fans over penalties on the Saints from the 2012 “Bountygate” scandal.

The court in that case “recognized that a ticket to a Saints game only provided a limited set of rights,” lawyers for the NFL wrote.

“At its essence, this suit was filed because the plaintiffs, fans and ticketholders of an athletic event, disagree with the outcome of that game. It is well settled that this kind of dispute implicates no legally cognizable rights,” the league's response stated.

The NFL also dismissed the idea that a judge could order the league to enforce NFL Rule 17, which grants the league commissioner “sole authority” to take action over a “calamity” in a game that the commissioner deems “so extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of the game.”

Much of “Who Dat Nation,” which is a named plaintiff in the suit brought by ticket-holders Tommy Badeaux and Candis Lambert, believes the blatant pass-interference call that game officials failed to call on a St. Louis Rams defensive back late in the title game squarely qualifies.

Nevermind the illegal helmet-to-helmet hit that Saints coach Sean Payton said NFL officials admitted was also ignored by the on-field refs on the same play.

The league claims that Rule 17 doesn’t apply to judgment calls by referees on the field, and that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell couldn’t have ordered a penalty on the controversial play if he wanted to.

NFL rules “specifically preclude directing the officials on the field to call a penalty; they similarly bar anyone from second-guessing the final on-the-field decision of the referee,” the league stated.

Even if Goodell could have upended the “no call” on the field, the league argues, his decision is completely discretionary, and not subject to the kind of court order the plaintiffs want.

The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan. It was originally allotted to Judge Barry Ashe, who was nominated to the bench last year by President Trump. Ashe recused himself because he’s a Saints season ticket-holder, court records show.

The case landed in federal court after the NFL filed Friday to remove it from civil court in New Orleans, based on a $5 million threshold for the damages sought in class actions.

The NFL claims it would lose “several multiples” of that amount if forced to replay even a few minutes of the NFL title game and reschedule the Super Bowl.

Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.