Federal judge in Minneapolis recuses himself from players' union collusion lawsuit against NFL

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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge in Minneapolis who had been the arbiter of NFL labor matters for more than two decades recused himself Friday from ruling on a dispute between NFL owners and the players' union over an alleged secret salary cap.

U.S. District Judge David Doty was to have held proceedings Oct. 1 in the union's $4 billion lawsuit against the NFL's 32 teams for collusion. The NFL Players Association alleges the league enforced a secret $123 million salary cap per club in 2010 when there was supposed to be no cap. The NFL denied it, and Doty sided with the owners in 2012.

"The parties deserve a new examination of the issues by a judge that has not already expressed an opinion as to the outcome of the dispute," Doty wrote in his order.

The case was reassigned to the chief U.S. district judge for Minnesota, Michael Davis. The Oct. 1 status conference will be rescheduled.

Doty had long overseen the 1993 Reggie White class-action settlement, and had a track record of labor-friendly rulings in the case. But he dismissed the union's lawsuit in 2012. He ruled that the players' 2011 collective bargaining agreement with the league barred the union from suing for alleged breaches of the White settlement, which paved the way for unrestricted free agency and served as the backbone of the previous collected bargaining agreement. It was expected at the time that it might be Doty's last NFL-related ruling.

But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed him in June and ordered Doty to hold further proceedings.

Doty wrote that he recused himself reluctantly because he didn't want to pass the complicated case to another judge without a background in it. He said it's not his custom to recuse himself from a case when he's reversed, unlike some judges, but that this one "calls for different treatment."

The judge, who clearly enjoyed handling the many White-related proceedings over the years, paid tribute to lawyers on both sides for their "outstanding advocacy" and high professionalism and said he will miss it.

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