A federal appeals court Thursday cleared the way for the National Football League to enforce a six-game suspension against Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott over a domestic violence case.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled 2-1 to vacate a preliminary injunction issued to the NFL Players’ Association by a federal judge last month.
Elliott was originally suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in August after the league concluded he had several physical confrontations last summer with his former girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson. Prosecutors in Ohio didn’t pursue the case, citing conflicting evidence.
In issuing the injunction, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant agreed with NFL players’ union attorneys who argued that the investigation of the allegations in Ohio and a subsequent appeal were unfair to Elliott, one of the league’s standout running backs.
The NFL countered that it followed procedures under the league’s labor deal and that the union improperly filed a lawsuit before the appeals process was complete.
But the appeals court ruled Thursday that Mazzant had no jurisdiction over the matter and ordered the Eastern District of Texas to dismiss the case.
The most likely destination for further legal challenges from players’ union attorneys representing Elliott is with the Southern District of New York. The NFL filed in that federal court after Elliott’s NFL appeal was denied by arbitrator Harold Henderson last month.
Last year’s NFL rushing leader as a rookie, Elliott’s legal team filed the lawsuit on his behalf in the Eastern District of Texas before Henderson had rejected the appeal.
The NFL had already agreed to let Elliott play in the opener before Elliott’s request for an injunction was granted by Mazzant in Sherman, north of Dallas. Henderson ruled against Elliott the same day Mazzant heard arguments over the injunction.
The NFL filed in the New York court because it is the home of league headquarters and was the site of Elliott’s appeal hearing with Henderson.
The league won the “Deflategate” decision in the New York court, leading to New England quarterback Tom Brady serving his four-game suspension a year after it was originally imposed. A federal judge had put Brady’s suspension on hold.
In the Elliott case, league attorneys wrote to the 5th Circuit that the union’s lawsuit had resulted in “hopelessly doomed proceedings” that shouldn’t continue.
According to the letter Elliott received informing him of the suspension, the NFL believed he used “physical force” three times over five days in a Columbus, Ohio, apartment last July resulting in injuries to Thompson’s face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists, hips and knees.
Elliott, 22, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
If Elliott’s legal team can’t put the suspension on hold again, it will begin Oct. 22 at San Francisco. Elliott played the first five games while the case was in the courts.
The second-year running back out of Ohio State has recorded 424 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.