​Alternative Dispute Resolutions & United States Professional Sports
​Alternative Dispute Resolutions & United States Professional Sports

​Alternative Dispute Resolutions & United States Professional Sports

Lead Author(s): PETER OMONDI-OCHIENG

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An engaging textbook on the U.S Legal system, sports law research and more.

         Chapter 1:  United States Legal System

This section provides an overview of the United States (“U.S.”) legal system. As stated by Article VI of the Constitution of the U.S., the authority of the Constitution is “the supreme law of the land,” which governs the ever increasing number of lawsuits facing professional athletes, their teams and leagues. An understanding of the U.S. legal system may be a starting point for current students, future professional athletes, sports franchises, team managers and/or all the other stakeholders who are directly or indirectly affiliated to them. The rest of the section covers: branches of government, court system, and legal process (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Three Branches of the U.S. Government

The Three Branches of the U.S. Government​

Source: Designed by Author

A.    The Branches of the U.S. Government

As illustrated in Figure 1, the U.S. government is divided into three branches, in a system meant to instill checks and balances ensuring that no individual or group gains a powerful control and that the federal government works in the best interest of its citizens (www.usa.gov/branches-of-government). In this symbiotic structure, the legislative branch makes laws, the executive branch carries out laws, and the judicial branch evaluates laws (Figure 1).

  • Legislative Branch (“LB”) – This branch of the U.S. government enacts legislations, confirms or rejects Presidential appointments, and has the authority to declare war (www.usa.gov/branches-of-government). LB is composed of Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) and several agencies that provide support services. Their most important duty is to make, enact and amend statutory laws through a majority vote system. The function of statutes is to create laws within a particular area, that are only valid in the area governed by the authorizing legislature - in other words, Louisiana statutes are only valid in Louisiana. Moreover, Congress has the power to initiate revenue bills, establish federal courts, impeach federal officials, and elect the President in the case of an Electoral College tie. The Senate is comprised of 100 senators - two from each state and the House of Representatives has 435 elected members divided amongst the 50 states in proportion to their population.  (www.whitehouse.gov/1600/legislative-branch).
  • Executive Branch (“EB”) – This is the second branch of the U.S. government which carries out and enforces laws. EB consists of the President, Vice President, the Cabinet, executive departments, independent agencies, and other boards, commissions, and committees (www.usa.gov/branches-of-government; www.usa.gov/branches-of-government). The role of the President includes head of state, leader of the federal government, and Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces. The Vice President supports the President and is second in line when the President is unable to serve. Lastly, the Cabinet (including vice President and heads of executive departments) serve as advisors to the President. EB also creates regulations, which are rules and administrative codes issued by governmental agencies at all levels, municipal, county, state, and federal. Although the federal regulations are not laws, they are the force of law; thus the executive branch plays a role in creating law.
  • Judicial Branch (“JB”) – JB is the last branch of the U.S. government, charged with interpreting and applying laws by adjusting legal claims through mechanisms of the highest court - Supreme Court and other federal courts (www.usa.gov/branches-of-government). When a court makes a decision and authors a written opinion, the decision is referred to as case law, which when collected is called common law. The collected common law can establish a precedent (binding or persuasive) for future cases.

B.    The U.S. Court System

After laws are created, they are then interpreted and applied to particular circumstances through three court levels - federal, state and administrative court systems (Figure 2).

Figure 2: U.S. Court System

U.S. Court System​

Source: Designed by Author

  • The U.S. Federal Court System – This hierarchical approach – from lower district court to high courts. The district court is the court of origin in the federal court system and are first to hear a case (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The U.S. Federal Court System

The U.S. Federal Court System​

Source: Designed by Author

The U.S. Federal courts are divided into 12 geographical locations with 94 district courts, of which the Circuit court hears appeals based on potential legal errors of the lower levels courts (Figure 4).

Figure 4: U.S. Federal Circuits

U.S. Federal Circuits​

Source: www.fedbar.org   

  • The U.S. State Court System - Each state has its own court system, mostly using hierarchical court systems divided into 3 levels – trial courts, appellate courts, and Supreme Court. However, there are many variances as not all states use the same court names and structures. For instance Colorado has a four-layer structure comprising of county, district, appeals and Supreme Court, whereas Montana has a simplified two-layer structure of distinct court and Supreme Court (Figure 5).

Figure 5: State Court Systems

State Court Systems​

Source: Designed by Author

  • The U.S. Administrative Court System - Administrative agencies create regulations, or rules to operationalize statutes created by legislatures and use administrative courts that apply these regulations through procedures that vary by state. For example, in Montana, all workers’ compensation claims are heard in Workers’ Compensation Court, which has limited ability to review only that type of claim.

C.    U.S. Legal Process

In general, the purpose of a law suit is to prove that the one party is liable for injuries and damages suffered by the other. In general civil cases are filed in accordance with well-established civil procedures (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Civil Trial Process

Civil Trial Process​

Source: Designed by Author

At the event of a lawsuit, the following traditional steps do take place chronologically from: plaintiff filling or petitioning, the defendant answer the complaint, discovery followed by court hearing, of which the case is then settled. The defendants can appeal and before a final settlement is rendered.