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StarCaps ruling could be key to 2010 Vikings season

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On Thursday, a ruling is expected regarding the motions for summary judgment filed in the Minnesota state court version of the StarCaps litigation. And the outcome could have a dramatic impact on Vikings’ ability in 2010 to complete the unfinished business remaining in the wake of an epic NFC title game collapse against the Saints.

The claims brought by Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams are intended to block the four-game suspensions imposed by the NFL via specific Minnesota drug-testing statutes. So far, the state-based legal theories -- added to the broader attack on the suspensions as an afterthought -- have allowed the Williamses to avoid for a full year the four-game suspensions initially made official by the league in late 2008.

Thursday likely will be the day of reckoning for one side or the other, with Judge Gary Larson possibly concluding that the Minnesota statutes at issue don’t prevent the NFL from implementing the suspensions. Alternatively, Judge Larsen could conclude exactly the opposite -- that the tests are invalid.

The least likely outcome is a finding that a full-blown trial is needed, since there’s no dispute regarding the facts of the case, and thus no need for a jury to sort out the evidence.

The best arguments for the players arise under the Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act. Under Section 181.953, Subdivision 10, discipline is not permitted based on a first offense. Though the employer may “temporarily suspend” the employee, a suspension is available only if the employer “believes that it is reasonably necessary to protect the health or safety of the employee, coemployees, or the public.”

Here, the NFL has no legitimate reason to believe that the inadvertent ingestion of a prescription diuretic, which the manufacturer of StarCaps secretly had added to its product, presents the type of health or safety risk that compels a suspension. The application of the plain language of Subdivision 10 therefore could prompt Judge Larson to rule in the players’ favor.

(The other statute at issue, the Minnesota Consumable Products Act, most likely would not block a suspension because the statute expressly states that the only remedy will be a civil claim for monetary damages.)

So how can the ruling impact the Vikings’ upcoming season? If Kevin and Pat Williams aren’t available for 25 percent of it each, quarterback Brett Favre might decide that the chances of truly going out on top are too slim, especially since the key to getting to the Super Bowl is forcing the conference title game to go through the Metrodome.