USA Football Dodges Youth League Concussion Claims

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By Steven M. Sellers

Concussion claims against USA Football, the governing body of youth football leagues nationwide, must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, the Central District of California ruled May 12 ( Archie v. Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. , C.D. Cal., No. 16-cv-06603, 5/12/17 ).

The ruling ends concussion litigation against three defendants in the would-be class action brought by the parents of two young men diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy after their deaths, and two others who claim their sons are at increased risk of developing the disease.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive head traumas, such as those the occur in football. The condition can only be diagnosed after death.

The would-be class action isn’t over yet. The dismissed allegations may be revived and four other California Pop Warner leagues, who weren’t parties to the dismissal motions, remain in the litigation.

“We are not surprised by the court’s ruling and we look forward to amending the complaint,” plaintiffs’ counsel Robert Finnerty, of Girardi & Keese, Los Angeles, told Bloomberg BNA May 15 in an email.

Gary Wolensky, of Buchalter in Irvine, California, who represents USA Football Inc., declined to comment on the ruling May 15.

Requests for comment sent to counsel for two other defendants in the case, Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc. and the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, didn’t receive an immediate response May 15.

CTE Alleged in Former Youth Players

Paul Bright Jr. and Tyler Cornell played youth football beginning in the 1990s. Both died in 2014 and autopsies showed they had CTE, according to the complaint.

The boys’ parents, Kimberly Archie and Jo Cornell, claim Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc. and USA Football Inc. misled them about the safety of youth football and the helmets used in the sport.

Debra McCrae and Shannon Barnes, parents of two other players, claim their sons are at risk of chronic brain diseases because of playing in California Pop Warner leagues.

The proposed class action would extend to all youths “who participated in the Pop Warner youth tackle football program between 1997 to the present and are suffering or have suffered from brain injuries, damage or disease.” A second class would consist of adults who enrolled their children in the program those years.

Barnes’s claimed risk of developing CTE didn’t show an injury-in-fact necessary for the court to hear the case, the court said.

And Archie, Cornell and McCrea couldn’t show any wrongful conduct by USA Football, which launched coaching education programs in Pop Warner leagues years after the players participated, the court said.

The claims against NOCSAE, a national commission formed in 1969 to reduce sports injuries through helmet performance standards, weren’t viable because its contacts with the state of California were too limited to confer jurisdiction.

“Here, there are no allegations that NOCSAE’s promotion of safety standards or licensing of its logo is at all targeted at California manufacturers, retailers or football leagues, let alone youth tackle football programs involved in this case,” the court said.

Nor could federal jurisdiction be exercised over Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc., based in Langhorn, Pennsylvania, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said.

That organization, based in Langhorn, Pennsylvania, presented evidence that youth football leagues in the state are independent corporations over which Pop Warner has no control.

U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez wrote the decision.

The law offices of Giraldi & Keese represented the plaintiffs.

Boornazian Jensen &Garthe, as well as Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker and Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard and Smith represented Pop Warner Little Scholars.

Dentons represented NOCSAE.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven M. Sellers in Washington at ssellers@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

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