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Nelson v. National Hockey League

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 20, 2014

ROBERT D. NELSON, Personal Representative of the Estate of DEREK BOOGAARD, Deceased, Plaintiff,

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For Robert D. Nelson, Plaintiff: Thomas A. Demetrio, William T Gibbs, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Corboy & Demetrio, Chicago, IL.

For National Hockey League, National Hockey League Board of Governors, Commissioner Gary B. Bettman, Defendants: Howard Z. Robbins, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Proskauer Rose, New York, NY; Joseph Baumgarten, LEAD ATTORNEY, Proskauer Rose LLP, New York, NY; Paul L. Langer, LEAD ATTORNEY, Michael Frederik Derksen, Proskauer Rose LLP (70W), Chicago, IL.

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Feinerman, United States District Judge.

The personal representative of Derek Boogaard's estate, who for ease of reference will be called " Boogaard" unless context requires otherwise, brought this suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, against the National Hockey League and its Board of Governors and Commissioner (collectively, " NHL" ). Doc. 1-1. The complaint characterizes Boogaard's claims as arising under Illinois law. The NHL removed the case to this court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, asserting that federal question jurisdiction lies under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because Boogaard's purported state law claims are completely preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (" LMRA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and thus in fact are federal claims.[*] Doc. 1. Boogaard has moved to remand the case to state court, arguing that his claims are not completely preempted by the LMRA and thus are true Illinois law claims. Doc. 23. Because at least some of Boogaard's claims are completely preempted, the motion is denied.


The following facts, taken primarily from the complaint, are assumed true at this stage of the proceeding. From 2005 through 2011, Boogaard played in the NHL for the Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers; his role was that of " an Enforcer/Fighter," meaning " a player that engages in fist-fights with players from the opposing team, on the ice, during a game." Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 2. The National Hockey League Players Association (" NHLPA" ) represents NHL players and negotiated the 2005 Collective Bargaining Agreement (" 2005 CBA" ) with the NHL, which was in effect during Boogaard's entire career. Id. at ¶ 28; Doc. 1 at ¶ 3.

In his 277 regular season games, Boogaard scored three goals, participated in at least 66 fights, and sustained numerous painful physical injuries, for which NHL team physicians, dentists, trainers, and staff provided him " copious amounts of prescription pain medications, sleeping pills, and painkiller injections." Doc. 1-1 at ¶ ¶ 2-6, 16. Boogaard eventually became addicted to some of those drugs and was enrolled in the NHL's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health (" SABH" ) Program. Id. at ¶ ¶ 1, 9-12. The terms of the SABH Program are set forth in a

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document that takes the form of an agreement signed by the NHL's commissioner and the NHLPA's executive director. Doc. 1-3. The agreement's first paragraph states that the SABH Program " is a comprehensive effort to address substance abuse among NHL players and their families, to treat those with a substance abuse problem in a confidential, fair and effective way, and to deter such abuse in the future," and adds that the Program " has the full support of the League and the Players' Association and will be incorporated into the Collective Bargaining Agreement." Id. at 3. Through the SABH Program, Boogaard entered The Canyon, a rehabilitation facility, in September 2009 for in-patient treatment of his opioid and sleeping pill addiction. Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 13.

After his release from The Canyon, Boogaard signed with the New York Rangers and suffered a relapse. Id. at ¶ ¶ 15-19. In early April 2011, the SABH Program directed Boogaard to enter Authentic Rehabilitation Center (" ARC" ) in California for treatment of his opioid addiction. Id. at ¶ 20. Despite knowing that Boogaard was not complying with his treatment regimen, the NHL allowed Boogaard to be temporarily released from ARC without a chaperone on two occasions. Id. at ¶ ¶ 21-23. On the first night of his second release, Boogaard ingested a Percocet and was found dead the next day, on May 13, 2011. Id. at ¶ ¶ 24-25. The cause of death was determined to be an accidental drug overdose. Id. at ¶ ¶ 141-143.

After his death, Boogaard's parents and estate unsuccessfully sued the NHLPA in California for breach its duty of fair representation. Boogaard v. Nat'l Hockey League Players Ass'n, 2013 WL 1164301 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 20, 2013). Boogaard's personal representative then filed this suit against the NHL. Counts I and II of the complaint allege the NHL failed to prevent the over-prescription of addictive medications to Boogaard. Doc. 1-1 at ¶ ¶ 43-101. Counts III and IV allege that the NHL breached its voluntarily undertaken duty to curb and monitor Boogaard's drug addiction during the time he was enrolled in the SABH Program, including by failing to provide Boogaard with a chaperone for his second temporary release from ARC and by failing to warn him of the risks associated with leaving the facility. Id. at ¶ ¶ 102-200. Counts V and VI allege the NHL was negligent in monitoring Boogaard for brain trauma during his career. Id. at ¶ ¶ 201-226. And Counts VII and VIII allege the NHL was negligent in permitting team doctors to inject Boogaard with Toradol, an intramuscular analgesic. Id. at ¶ ¶ 227-267.


As noted above, the NHL premises federal subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that Boogaard's claims, which Boogaard characterizes as arising under Illinois law, are completely preempted by § 301 of the LMRA. The complete preemption doctrine " converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1989). " Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1441(a). Crosby v. Cooper B-Line, Inc., 725 F.3d 795, 800 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Ne. Rural Elec. Membership Corp. v. Wabash Valley Power Ass'n, 707 F.3d 883, 894 (7th Cir. 2013).

Settled precedent holds that § 301 the LMRA completely preempts state law claims " founded directly on rights created by collective-bargaining

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agreements, and also claims substantially dependent on analysis of a collective-bargaining agreement." Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 394 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Nelson v. Stewart, 422 F.3d 463, 467-69 (7th Cir. 2005); In re Bentz Metal Products Co., Inc., 253 F.3d 283, 285-86 (7th Cir. 2001) (en banc). Complete preemption under § 301 " covers not only obvious disputes over labor contracts, but also any claim masquerading as a state-law claim that nevertheless is deemed 'really' to be a claim under a labor contract." Crosby, 725 F.3d at 797. " [T]o determine whether a purported state-law claim 'really' arises under Section 301, a federal court must look beyond the face of the plaintiff's allegations and the labels used to describe her claims and ... evaluate the substance of plaintiff's claims." Id. at 800 (internal quotation marks omitted). " ...

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