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Latest StarCaps ruling could lead to complete victory for the NFL

Earlier today, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the Minnesota Court of Appeals refused to expedite the appeal filed by Vikings defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams after the denial of their attempt to block the suspension of their four-game suspensions. On the surface, this means that the temporary injunction blocking the suspensions will continue -- and likely will extend beyond the 2010 season.

But there’s more to the story. Potentially, much more.

We’ve obtained a copy of the ruling. Though the Court did indeed refuse to expedite the appeal, the Court also explained that the NFL may file a motion to lift the injunction blocking the suspensions within the context of the players’ appeal.

In other words, there are two ways to skin the cat. First, the NFL can win the appeal outright. Second, the NFL can attempt to convince the Minnesota Court of Appeals that Judge Gary Larson should not have blocked the suspensions pending the finalization of the appeal.

So, basically, the NFL gets a second bite at the apple. Officially, the league has not yet decided to take that second bite.

“The Court noted that the NFL has the option to seek review sooner by filing a motion to vacate the trial court’s ruling blocking the suspensions,” the league said in an official statement provided to us by spokesman Greg Aiello. “We are studying the decision and will decide whether to pursue that option.”

There’s an even more intriguing option that the league may pursue, in our assessment. At page 2 of the ruling, the Minnesota Court of Appeals says the following: “After completion of the court trial, the district court issued an order on May 6, 2010 denying the players’ request for a permanent injunction and dissolving the July 9, 2009 temporary restraining order. On May 25, 2010, the players filed an appeal . . . from the May 6, 2010 order.

“An appeal may be taken from an order which grants, refuses, or dissolves, or refuses to dissolve, an injunction. Minn. R. Civ. App. 103.03(b). We note that appeal A10-922 is taken only from the May 6, 2010 order denying injunctive relief. The players have not perfected an appeal from a final judgment on the merits.”

In other words, the Williamses potentially screwed up.

Instead of filing an appeal of the decision to dissolve the prior temporary injunction blocking the imposition of the suspension, the Williamses filed only an appeal of the order denying the permanent injunction. Though it potentially represents a tomato/tomahto distinction, the ruling seems to imply that an order denying a permanent injunction falls beyond the scope of the rulings that may be appealed -- and that the Williamses erred by not appealing the order dissolving the existing injunction.

It’s technical legal mumbo-jumbo, but it’s the kind of esoteric issue on which many cases routinely are resolved.

Though Judge Larson could decide to give the Williamses another chance to properly appeal the case via a new final order from which a new appeal could be taken, he also could decide that they had their chance, that the ruling and the record stands as it is. Thus, the league likely will be filing with the Minnesota Court of Appeals a motion to dismiss the appeal in its entirety. Unless Judge Larson throws the Williamses a bone, today’s ruling implies that the Minnesota Court of Appeals could end up kicking out the case -- and that the league could end up with a green light to suspend Pat and Kevin Williams before the 2010 season ends.

And possibly before it begins.

All over a legal technicality.