Experience. Results.

An addendum to Michael Cloud v. NFL Player Retirement Plan

On Behalf of | Mar 20, 2024 | Disability Claims, ERISA

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have paid close attention to the rollercoaster case involving former NFL running back Michael Cloud and his quest to attain the highest level of disability benefits from the NFL Player Retirement Plan.

While we wish we could report a miraculous change in Mr. Cloud’s circumstances, alas we only have a symbolic addendum to his saga to share.

The backstory

This tale has many twists and turns, so we encourage you to read our previous posts (in chronological order):

  1. The NFL’s shameful history with disabled former players (Jan 12, 2023)
  2. A new report reveals tactics the NFL uses to not pay injured players (Feb 17, 2023)
  3. Epic NFL disability lawsuit ends in player’s defeat (Nov 13, 2023)

Briefly, Mr. Cloud retired early from the NFL in 2006 after seven seasons due to numerous complications from the litany of back, neck and head injuries he’d sustained over the years. He received partial benefits from the NFL Retirement Plan at first, but as his health worsened, rendering him completely disabled, he applied for full benefits. The NFL denied his application and his appeal. He brought a lawsuit against the league in 2020.

The lawsuit revealed the NFL’s appalling claims review process, including one notorious “pre-meeting” where the board ruled on 114 player disability claim applications in 10 minutes, averaging one claim ruling every 5.26 seconds. Mr. Cloud won his lawsuit, including back pay and attorney’s fees.

Then the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision. Included in its baffling ruling, the court acknowledged the plan’s “lopsided system aggressively stacked against disabled players,” leaving the entire ERISA legal world scratching their heads.

A symbolic dissent

So why are we revisiting this shameful situation? Mr. Cloud recently petitioned for a rehearing, which the Fifth Circuit denied. Included in that denial was a dissenting opinion by Circuit Judge James E. Graves, Jr., who voted in favor of a rehearing.

In his dissent, the judge touched on the many reasons that led to Mr. Cloud’s initial courtroom success. In one compelling section, the judge notes “The record indicates that nobody really reads any individual applications or administrative records, there’s really no oversight, and a paralegal for outside counsel drafts the denial letters and adds language, often incorrect, that the board never considered or said, as acknowledged by the panel.”

This dissent is cold comfort for Mr. Cloud and the countless other former NFL players with a partial or complete disability from the years of physical trauma they sustained on the field. With the Fifth Circuit’s apparent blessing, the NFL Player Retirement Plan seems poised to continue their arbitrary and ad hoc denial of benefits for ailing former players.