BOSTON (Reuters) – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the National Football League by a group of New England Patriots fans angry about the league’s handling of the “Deflategate” scandal, saying they lacked legal standing to sue.
The suit challenged the NFL’s decision to strip the team of a first-round draft pick in 2016 after allegations that the Patriots deliberately used underinflated footballs to meet the preferences of star quarterback Tom Brady in a 2015 playoffs game against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Patriots won that game, putting them on the path to Brady’s fourth Super Bowl championship.
The lawsuit charged the NFL violated federal racketeering laws – those designed to prosecute organized crime figures – in stripping the team of a first-round pick in the draft, an important event in the NFL calendar when teams pick college players.
U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor said the fans who brought the suit lacked standing to sue the league on the team’s behalf and had failed to make an adequate case for a racketeering claim.
“Neither the complaint nor the amended complaint include any specific allegation of an injury to business or property arising out of the alleged racketeering activity,” Saylor wrote in a ruling filed late on Monday.
The NFL also punished the Patriots by taking away their pick in the fourth round of the 2017 draft and fining them $1 million. The team successfully challenged the NFL’s effort to suspend Brady from playing in the first four games of the 2015-2016 season.
The NFL found it was “more probable than not” that Brady, now 38, had been “generally aware” that two low-level Patriots employees had conspired to reduce the air pressure of footballs.
Brady and the team deny wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)