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Armstrong v. National Football League

This case concerned claims by large numbers of former professional football players that serious football injuries—concussions and other head impacts—have had grave effects on the health of many former players and present continuing severe risks of such health effects in the future. Lawyers for players and for the National Football League used a federal damages class action to negotiate a resolution that determined which injured players would receive compensation and in what amounts, and which players would release all their claims for no monetary recovery. Yet rather than creating subclasses corresponding to the many disparate interests of differently affected class members before negotiating the terms of the deal, the attorneys purported to provide adequate representation for those diverse interests—a task that Rule 23(a)(4) precludes them from undertaking in the circumstances of this case.

Public Citizen filed an amicus brief in support of a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court filed by a group of former players who objected to the settlement. The brief explained that the Third Circuit’s approval of a settlement negotiated without adequate representation for class members on different sides of the many fault lines that the settlement agreement created among members of the class reflected a need for further guidance from the Supreme Court concerning the rigor with which such protections must be provided. The amicus brief explained that, in light of the significance of class settlements as a means by which our judicial system redresses widespread injuries, it is important that the Supreme Court resolve disagreements among the lower courts over the proper procedures for reaching such settlements. In December 2016, the Court denied the petition.