Vilma v. Goodell Lawsuit Summary

Today, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma filed a lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.  Vilma is currently suspended for the entirety of the 2012 NFL season as a result of his alleged involvement in the Saints bounty program.

Vilma’s lawsuit alleges a cause of action for defamation.  In Louisiana, defamation is defined as, “. . . the malicious publication or expression … of anything which tends to expose any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to deprive him of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse.” 

In this instance, Vilma contends that Goodell made several defamatory statements related to his alleged participation in the bounty program.  In particular, the lawsuit references a March 2, 2012 memorandum Goodell disseminated to all 32 NFL clubs.  In that memorandum, Goodell  “. . . alleged that ‘prior to a Saints playoff game in January, 2010, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 in cash to any player who knocked [opposing quarterback Brett] Favre out of the game.'”  The lawsuit also notes that the contents of the March 2, 2012 memorandum have been and continued to be reported by the media. 

Additionally, on March 21, the lawsuit alleges that after handing down punishments, Goodell issued another memorandum to all 32 teams wherein he said, “I am profoundly troubled by the fact that players – including leaders among the defensive players – embraced this program so enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow players. . .”  The lawsuit alleges that this statement referred to Vilma.  Within the March 21 memorandum, Goodell once again reiterated his previous March 2 statement related to Vilma and Favre.  Again, the lawsuit alleges that the contents of the March 21 memorandum have been widely disseminated by the media.

The lawsuit also alleges that a statement made by Goodell in an April 24 interview that “. . . evidence was clear that the players embraced ‘a Bounty Program'” referred to Vilma. 

On May 2, Goodell handed down player punishments, which resulted in Vilma being suspended for the entire 2012 season.  After laying out the suspensions, Goodell issued another release, wherein he more thoroughly delineated his claims against Vilma.  The lawsuit asserts that these statements related to Vilma’s alleged involvement with the bounty program are defamatory.

One defense to causes of action for defamation, is that the statement is the truth.  Thus, in the lawsuit, Vilma contends that there has been no corroborative evidence presented that a bounty program existed.  Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Vilma had no role in creating or orchestrating a bounty program, nor did he embrace such a program.  As such, he asserts that the statements related to his alleged involvement in such a program are untrue, and as such, defamatory.

The lawsuit alleges that Vilma’s professional reputation, as clubs will be less likely to sign Vilma due to the allegedly untruthful statements made related to his alleged role in a bounty program.  Likewise, the lawsuit alleges that Vilma’s personal reputation has been harmed, as his persona has been damaged in Louisiana and abroad due to the statements made related to his alleged involvement in the bounty program. 

Furthermore, alone with ten various counts of defamation, the lawsuit also alleges a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.  In this claim, Vilma alleges that the above statements made by Goodell were extreme and outrageous, and because of them, Vilma has suffered extreme emotional distress, which Goodell knew Vilma would be caused by making his statements. 

Ultimately, Vilma’s lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, interest, attorneys’ fees and any other judgment the court finds proper.

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