Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) celebrates after running for a first down against the San Francisco 49ers during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
NEW YORK (AP) — Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott was granted another legal reprieve Tuesday night in the running back’s fight to avoid a six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.
A New York federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the league’s suspension, clearing Elliott to play Sunday at San Francisco.
U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty’s ruling came five days after a federal appeals court overturned a Texas court’s injunction that had kept Elliott on the field.
Crotty granted the request for the restraining order pending a hearing before the presiding judge, Katherine Polk Failla, who is on vacation.
The NFL was ordered to appear before Failla on or before Oct. 30 to argue why the suspension should not be blocked by a preliminary injunction — the next step in the legal process — until the court can rule on challenges the players’ union brought against the suspension.
“We are confident our arguments will prevail in court when they are taken up again later this month,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Elliott, last year’s NFL rushing leader as a rookie, was barred from the team’s facility Tuesday as players returned from their off week. The NFL placed him on the suspended list Friday, a day after the league’s favorable ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The 22-year-old Elliott was suspended in August by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time.
Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence, but the NFL did its own investigation. Elliott denied the allegations under oath during his NFL appeal.
The suspension’s announcement in August led to weeks of court filings, with NFLPA lawyers contending that league investigators withheld key evidence from Goodell and that the appeal hearing was unfair because arbitrator Harold Henderson refused to call Goodell and Thompson as witnesses.
In an opinion accompanying the ruling, Crotty agreed with the Texas judge who had backed the claims of Elliott’s attorneys. Crotty wrote that Henderson’s denial of testimony from Goodell and Thompson was significant because of credibility issues related to Thompson.
“In effect, (Elliott) was deprived of opportunities to explore pertinent and material evidence, which raises sufficiently serious questions,” Crotty wrote.
Attorney Daniel Nash, arguing for the NFL, accused Elliott’s legal team of seeking relief from courts in Texas to evade courts in New York and the effect of the April 2016 ruling that reinstated a four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady in the “Deflategate” scandal.
Nash warned Crotty that allowing the union to continue to delay the suspension would invite “every player who’s suspended” to go to court for relief.
“They know under the Brady decision they have no chance of success. None,” Nash said.
Attorney Jeffrey Kessler, representing the players’ union, said the harm to a player’s short career was serious when a suspension is served.
“He can never get that back,” Kessler said, arguing that the irreparable harm — among issues of law considered before a temporary restraining order is granted — faced by a player is much greater than harm claimed by the league when a suspension is delayed. In his opinion, Crotty agreed.
Nash suggested during the hearing that the union was overstating its claims of irreparable harm.